robot

In Tunis on April 1, a citizen shows a permit to a police robot monitoring curfew enforcement to curb the spread of COVID-19. 


Khaled Nasraoui/picture alliance via Getty Images

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Tunisians out on the streets of Tunis during the country’s coronavirus lockdown should be prepared for questioning by police officials — the robotic kind. Four-wheeled unmanned robots are patrolling the capital city to help enforce a 12-hour nightly curfew meant to curb the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus. 

The PGuard robots from Tunisia-based Enova Robotics come equipped with infrared and thermal-imaging cameras and a sound and light alarm system for making public announcements. If the bots spot potential violators, they roll up and ask to see IDs to be examined remotely by police officers, who can communicate with citizens in real time via microphones and speakers. The Tunisian Interior Ministry posted a Facebook video (below) that shows how it all works. 

Another video posted to Twitter shows a PGuard asking a man whether he understands there’s a lockdown. The man explains he’s out to buy cigarettes.

“OK buy your tobacco, but be quick and go home,” the robot answers.  

Tunisia’s lockdown went into effect on March 22, with Tunisians being asked to stay at home from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. and leave home during the day for medicine and other necessities. Defiance of the curfew can result in strict penalties. Police have already revoked more than 10,000 driver’s licenses from motorists who did not have proper permits, according to German daily newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine, and cars can be confiscated. 

The North African country has almost 500 confirmed cases as of this writing, with a death toll of 18. 

Robots are doing their part to help humans cope with the coronavirus crisis in other countries, as well. In Germany, diminutive humanoid bots explain protective measures at the entrances to stores. In the US, England and elsewhere, they make home deliveries. 

At hospitals in Italy, Thailand and China, bots are screening and observing COVID-19 to relieve human health care workers. At one smart hospital in Wuhan, China, bots totally took over care for a few days last month, taking vital signs, delivering meds, disinfecting the facility and entertaining quarantined patients. Robots have also disinfected streets in Chinese residential areas and dispensed hand sanitizer.  


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