3D printed Sentinel robot could increase traffic safety for police officers

Apr 2, 2017 | By Julia

Two students at Duke University have designed a 3D printed robot that could help police officers carry out routine traffic stops. A long way from RoboCop, “Sentinel,” as the robot has been named, was created by Chris Reyes and Vaibhav Tadepalli in response to several violent altercations between police and motorists.

“In July last year, there were two specific instances that really pushed us to develop this device,” said Tadepalli. “On July 6, [motorist] Philando Castile was shot [by police] during a traffic stop in front of his girlfriend and four-year-old daughter. Then, two days later, officer Michael Flamion was shot as he approached a vehicle during another traffic stop.”

The two students agreed that there must be a solution to what is becoming an ongoing problem. There needs to be a safer alternative that allows everyone to walk away alive, Tadepalli said.

In response, Reyes and Tadepalli began drafting plans for Sentinel, a four-wheeled, camera- and sensor-equipped robot 3D printed in Duke’s Innovation Co-Lab. The pair’s central use of 3D printing has allowed them to quickly prototype new versions of Sentinel – the robot is currently on its fifth iteration – while keeping costs down. Whereas other police robots cost at least $20,000 USD, Reyes and Tadepalli claim they would be able to market Sentinel for only about $10,000.

The premise is fairly simple: an officer located near a traffic stop presses a button on the police vehicle’s central console to deploy the Sentinel robot, which would approach the stopped car in question. As the robot moves toward the vehicle, it would raise a video display serving as a two way communication between the officer and the driver, almost like a Skype call.

Officers would have a 180 degree view into the vehicle, allowing them to scan license plates, and inspect drivers’ licenses and IDs, which would be scanned remotely from their own police vehicle. The Sentinel robot is also equipped to perform breathalyzer and THC tests.

Reyes and Tadepalli have stressed that the robot is intended for information collection and communication purposes only, and does not have the capacity to make decisions on its own. Even though the Sentinel robot has the computer intelligence to issue tickets digitally, the Duke students emphasize that it would not substitute police officers themselves; rather, the robot would simply act as a buffer to keep both law enforcement and civilians safe.

“We’re not trying to take a job away, we just want to make it easier and safer for the person who does that job,” Reyes told press.

While Sentinel would be a huge advantage to police forces’ overall safety, the question of how motorists’ own rights would be impacted remains somewhat open. The two makers are clear that their robot would not carry any weapons, however, a modular design would allow police agencies to modify the Sentinel to their specific needs.

How the robot advances in this regard would be critical, given the increasing problem of police brutality cases in North America.

For now, the Sentinel robot is still undergoing simulation testing, and is currently sourcing funding from Duke grants and an ongoing Indiegogo campaign. Reyes says he hopes to begin field-testing over the next several months.

“We’re passionate about this particular product because we see that if we can get it deployed, we can save lives,” Tadepalli said.

The robot is expected to be fully developed and ready for implementation in police departments by January 2018.

Posted in 3D Printing Application

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