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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Emerging Science Note/Jockey Robotics

Air Date: Week of

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


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.


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.

ANNOUNCER: Support for N-P-R comes from N-P-R stations, and: The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, online at m-o-t-t dot org, supporting efforts to promote a just, equitable and sustainable society; The Kresge Foundation. Building the capacity of nonprofit organizations through challenge grants since 1924. On the web at k-r-e-s-g-e dot org; The Annenberg Fund for excellence in communications and education; and, The W-K Kellogg Foundation. ‘From Vision to Innovative Impact: 75 Years of Philanthropy. This is N-P-R, National Public Radio.



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