Robocops

In a city of 10 million people, traffic in Kinshasa has become a major problem ever more drivers hitting the grid-locked streets. The city authorities, mindful of the lack public trust in the police and keen to employ new technology, have come up with a creative solution to Kinshasa's congestion problem. Part traffic light, part cartoon robot, these 8 foot tall metal contraptions are now found across the city giving out visual and audible directives to motorized and pedestrian traffic. Designed and manufactured by Women's Tech, a company owned by Therese Korongozi, a local entrepreneur, the solar powered devices are cheap to produce and run. Equipped with built-in video cameras and rotating chests, the robots record the flow of traffic, feeding back video footage to police headquarters. The 'robocops' work around the clock, 365 days a year and, crucially for the corruption-weary road users of Kinshasa, they don't take bribes. The initiative has been so successful in DR Congo that other African countries are looking at importing the 'robocops' that have revolutionized traffic in Kinshasa. 

  • #FutureofCities - The Traffic Robot

    Brian Sokol

    #FutureofCities - Robocops

    Sony α7R, 135mm F2 (F-Stop: 2, Shutter: 1/2000, ISO: 100)

    Kinshasa, the capital and largest city of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is a bustling megacity of more than 10 million people. Two of the biggest problems that the metropolis faces are increasing traffic congestion and rampant police corruption. In order to combat both of these issues in one fell swoop, Women’s Tech - a Congolese cooperative employing a handful of engineers, designers and dreamers - created and manufactures giant robotic traffic police. The eight-foot tall humanoid structures have had a demonstrable effect in improving traffic flow through some of the city’s busiest intersections. They are also immune to bribery, incapable of assaulting motorists and work back-to-back 24 hour shifts, 7 days per week. And some of them have sunglasses.

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  • #FutureofCities - The Traffic Robot

    Brian Sokol

    #FutureofCities - Robocops

    Sony DSC-RX1R (F-Stop: 3.2, Shutter: 1/50, ISO: 800)

    Therese Kirongozi, the Mother of Robots and president of Women’s Tech, poses above a half-completed humanoid robocop in her workshop. A talented and tireless entrepreneur, Women’s Tech is just one of Therese’s businesses. The workshop sits behind her third restaurant, which features a swimming pool oft-crowded with bikin-clad Kinshas teens, a bouncy castle for the kiddos, and a creepy, cartoonesque, life-size statue of Michael Jackson.

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  • #FutureofCities - The Traffic Robot

    Brian Sokol

    #FutureofCities - Robocops

    Sony α7R, FE 55mm F1.8 ZA (F-Stop: 1.8, Shutter: 1/125, ISO: 1000)

    Its ‘eyes’ made out of small cameras, its head a dusty collection of bonded aluminum plates, one of Congo’s humanoid robot traffic police sits in a Kinshasa workshop, waiting to be finished and deployed on the streets. The robot cops are intended to blend the functions of traffic lights and human police officers – wielding red and green lights, and able to vocally inform pedestrians when it’s safe to cross the road.

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  • #FutureofCities - The Traffic Robot

    Brian Sokol

    #FutureofCities - Robocops

    Sony DSC-RX1R (F-Stop: 3.5, Shutter: 1/60, ISO: 640)

    Therese Kirongozi, the Mother of Robots and restauranteur/entrepreneur extreme.

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  • #FutureofCities - The Traffic Robot

    Brian Sokol

    #FutureofCities - Robocops

    Sony α7S, 24mm F1.4 (F-Stop: 7.1, Shutter: 1/2500, ISO: 800)

    Commissar Claudine and Officer Alpha try valiantly to direct traffic at one of Kinshasa’s wildly overloaded intersections. Despite the fact that they are incapable of walking or thinking, Kinshasa’s giant robocops – which are half traffic light, half police officer – have proven surprisingly effective at tackling the city of 10 million’s growing vehicular congestion horrors. While the robots’ human colleagues are capable of falling prey to injury, respiratory infections from the constant haze of diesel fumes, and – let’s admit it – taking the occasional bribe, the solar-powered colossus are immune to all of the above. They are also capable of feeding real-time video from some of the city’s busiest intersections back to police HQ, where it is recorded and can be used in legal proceedings.

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  • #FutureofCities - The Traffic Robot

    Brian Sokol

    #FutureofCities - Robocops

    Sony α7S, FE 55mm F1.8 ZA (F-Stop: 20, Shutter: 1/125, ISO: 800)

    Kinshasa is busy. Very busy. It’s a city of 10 million people. Here’s a photograph from the Kinshasa Est railway station.

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  • #FutureofCities - The Traffic Robot

    Brian Sokol

    #FutureofCities - Robocops

    Sony α7S, FE 55mm F1.8 ZA (F-Stop: 22, Shutter: 1/100, ISO: 12800)

    Therese Kirongozi, the Mother of Robots and restauranteur/entrepreneur extreme.

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  • #FutureofCities - The Traffic Robot

    Brian Sokol

    #FutureofCities - Robocops

    Sony α7R, 135mm F2 (F-Stop: 8, Shutter: 1/200, ISO: 125)

    Not total chaos. You should see the other intersections in Kinshasa. Strange as it sounds to say, both motorists and pedestrians appear to have more confidence in the giant, inanimate robocops who preside over traffic flow than they do for their human counterparts elsewhere in the city of 10 million.

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  • #FutureofCities - The Traffic Robot

    Brian Sokol

    #FutureofCities - Robocops

    Sony α7S, 24mm F1.4 (F-Stop: 1.4, Shutter: 1/3200, ISO: 50)

    Therese Kirongozi (left), the Mother of Robots and restauranteur/entrepreneur extreme.

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  • #FutureofCities - The Traffic Robot

    Brian Sokol

    #FutureofCities - Robocops

    Sony α7S, FE 55mm F1.8 ZA (F-Stop: 1.8, Shutter: 1/160, ISO: 800)

    Making giant robot cops doesn’t only require aluminum plating, fiber optics, a satellite data feed and LEDs, it takes a business plan. Here one of Women’s Tech’s many male employees (well, it’s a small business, but there are far more guys than gals) points at a bunch of words written on a dry erase board at the company’s workshop behind a crazy restaurant-cum-fun fair, complete with a mini locomotive, in Kinshasa.

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  • #FutureofCities - The Traffic Robot

    Brian Sokol

    #FutureofCities - Robocops

    Sony α7S, FE 55mm F1.8 ZA (F-Stop: 9, Shutter: 1/50, ISO: 2500)

    Barefoot and wirelessly connected, Therese Kirongozi—president of Women’s Tech and the driving force behind Kinshasa’s superhumanoid robocops—chats on the phone while two of her employees drive nails into the legs of a new trooper.

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  • #FutureofCities - The Traffic Robot

    Brian Sokol

    #FutureofCities - Robocops

    Sony α7S, FE 55mm F1.8 ZA (F-Stop: 6.3, Shutter: 1/25, ISO: 4000)

    Cadé is one of the eight people, most of them male, employed at Women’s Tech’s robo-manufacturing workshop, which is a small, dusty nook in the corner of a crazy bar/restaurant/pool/theme park in ‘suburban’ Kinshasa. The 8-foot (3.5 meter) tall robots that are helping to improve traffic flow and, reportedly, both pedestrian and motor safety, in DR Congo’s capital are made by hand with relatively simple tools and vast amounts of creativity. Not only do Cadé and his colleagues make robocops for Kinshasa, but they have now been implemented in other cities in Congo, and orders have apparently been placed for similar humanoids by neighboring African countries.

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  • #FutureofCities - The Traffic Robot

    Brian Sokol

    #FutureofCities - Robocops

    Sony α7S, FE 55mm F1.8 ZA (F-Stop: 2, Shutter: 1/1250, ISO: 50)

    Aerial view of Kinshasa.

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  • #FutureofCities - The Traffic Robot

    Brian Sokol

    #FutureofCities - Robocops

    Sony α7S, FE 55mm F1.8 ZA (F-Stop: 1.8, Shutter: 1/4000, ISO: 64)

    Not total chaos. You should see the other intersections in Kinshasa. Strange as it sounds to say, both motorists and pedestrians appear to have more confidence in the giant, inanimate robocops who preside over traffic flow than they do for their human counterparts elsewhere in the city of 10 million.

    Open fullscreen
  • #FutureofCities - The Traffic Robot

    Brian Sokol

    #FutureofCities - Robocops

    Sony DSC-RX1R (F-Stop: 2.8, Shutter: 1/500, ISO: 800)
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  • #FutureofCities - The Traffic Robot

    Brian Sokol

    #FutureofCities - Robocops

    Sony α7S, FE 55mm F1.8 ZA (F-Stop: 1.8, Shutter: 1/6400, ISO:160)

    Sometimes human cops blow their cool. Robocops don’t do that. If they did, it would be bad news, as they’re 8 feet tall and made of aluminum and stainless steel. But rather than beating the living daylights out of motorists or squeezing them for money in exchange for letting them off for traffic infractions, they just stand there, day and night, directing traffic, telling pedestrians when it’s safe to cross, and sending a video feed back to police HQ.

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  • #FutureofCities - The Traffic Robot

    Brian Sokol

    #FutureofCities - Robocops

    Sony DSC-RX1R (F-Stop: 16, Shutter: 1/500, ISO:1000)

    From behind her enormous designer sunglasses, Therese Kirongozi, the Mother of Robots and restauranteur/entrepreneur extreme, laughs at the complete and utter chaos of a Kinshasa intersection not governed over by one of her giant humanoid robocops.

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  • #FutureofCities - The Traffic Robot

    Brian Sokol

    #FutureofCities - Robocops

    Sony α7S, FE 55mm F1.8 ZA (F-Stop: 1.8, Shutter: 1/4000, ISO:5000)

    This is the metallic midrif of a giant robot police officer. Looks as though there are several screws yet to be driven in.

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  • #FutureofCities - The Traffic Robot

    Brian Sokol

    #FutureofCities - Robocops

    Sony α7S, FE 35mm F2.8 ZA (F-Stop: 2.8, Shutter: 1/20, ISO:12800)

    Kinshasa isn’t what you think. Neither are the superhuman robots which are being deployed to help rectify the horrifically dangerous and disorganized traffic situation exploding there. Not that this photograph depicts, or really has anything to do with giant robots. But it does have pretty colors, and shows that there are many cars and pedestrians out at night. You shouldn’t find that surprising; it’s one of the largest cities in Africa.

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  • #FutureofCities - The Traffic Robot

    Brian Sokol

    #FutureofCities - Robocops

    Sony DSC-RX1R (F-Stop: 2, Shutter: 1/60, ISO:1250)

    Night time, Kinshasa.

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  • #FutureofCities - The Traffic Robot

    Brian Sokol

    #FutureofCities - Robocops

    Sony α7R, 24mm F1.4 (F-Stop: 1.4, Shutter: 1/1000, ISO:100)

    Behold the robot. It is truth. It is justice. It is shiny. The future is now. Get used to it.

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About Brian

Brian Sokol is a US-born photographer dedicated to documenting human rights issues and humanitarian crises worldwide.

A writer by training, he uses words and images to tell the stories of individuals overlooked by the media.

After working as a wilderness ranger and Himalayan guide, he began his photographic career in Nepal, where he learned the language and invested himself deeply in the culture. In 2011 he moved to South Sudan to cover the first two years in the life of the world's newest country from the inside.

He regularly works with UNHCR, UNICEF and other humanitarian organizations to document and raise awareness about global social issues.

Editorial and commercial clients include TIME, The New York Times, The New Yorker, GEO, Stern, Ogilvy & Mather and Philips.

 

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