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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Emerging Science Note/Jockey Robotics

Air Date: Week of July 29, 2005

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Living on Earth's Max Thelander reports on the latest innovation in the sport of camel racing.

Transcript

YOUNG: Just ahead: Mexico City has a new high speed bus system. But will anyone get on board? First, this Note on Emerging Science from Max Thelander.

[SCIENCE NOTE THEME]

THELANDER: Think of a fast-moving animal, and camels probably aren’t at the top of your list. But camel racing is a long-standing and culturally important tradition among Bedouin Arabs. For hundreds of years, children as young as four have been favored as jockeys for their light weight. But last year, the United Arab Emirates’ Camel Racing Association banned the use of jockeys under 18, on the heels of allegations that the children were being kidnapped, kept in prison-like conditions, and deliberately underfed.

Confronted with this human rights fiasco, some camel racing enthusiasts got innovative – they asked a Swiss company to develop a replacement. The result is a robot that weighs around 30 pounds and looks like a jockey-sized action figure, complete with helmet and wrap-around glasses. Mounted on the back of a camel, the robot’s mechanical arms are capable of pulling reigns and using a whip. The arms, in turn, are controlled by humans using handheld remotes, chasing the camels in SUVs.

The inaugural test race was attended by hundreds of cheering fans, as well as the UAE minister for presidential affairs, who proclaimed it a tremendous success and said it marked “a new development in this indispensable sport.” Thousands of the robots, selling for about $2000 each, are already on order. As for the children, some 250 of them have been returned to their homes. That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science. I’m Max Thelander.

YOUNG: And you’re listening to Living on Earth.

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