Robot `policeman' puts safety first

You've heard of Dasher and Dancer, Repoman and Robocop, but have you heard of the robot just sworn into the Cambridge, Mass., police force? The big surprise hit the force's blue when they came to roll call one evening and found the roll was being called by - him-her-it.

When asked their response, robot said, ``They thought I was as cute as could be. One wanted a date.''

This is New England's first child safety robot, speaking with the voice of Sgt. Richard Bongiorno. It's a remote-controlled educational device, called an Auxiliary Robotic Educational System by its developer, 21st Century Robotics, Norcross, Ga.

Standing over five feet high and weighing in at 180 pounds, the robot is powered by 12-volt rechargeable gel cells. It has an abbreviated blue-and-red cruiser light bar inside its plexiglass globe ``head,'' a miniature traffic light on its ``sleeve,'' and a video screen in its ``belly.''

Controlled by radio, it talks, it walks, it moves its arms.

In a profile of the robot, its likes and dislikes were revealed:

Favorite drink: 3-in-1 Oil.

Favorite music: heavy metal.

Favorite store: True Value Hardware.

Worst habit: nail biting.

Dislikes: rust around the collar, rain.

The Youth Division of the Cambridge police will use the little robot in its community relations work to provide safety information to children in an entertaining way. Subjects include drugs, alcohol, sexual abuse, and abduction. It will visit schools for this purpose.

In addition, with the approval of the district attorney, the robot might be used with a child victim who may be uncomfortable disclosing sensitive information to adults or authorities. In fact, the idea for Robot was formulated in Georgia during the Atlanta child murders.

``The robot ... creates a bridge between the School and Police Departments and helps us work together to help kids in sensitive areas,'' says Frances Cooper, a member of the Cambridge School Committee.

``It is also useful in child safety and fire prevention education.''

According to Police Chief Anthony Paolillo, Robot will not join the policemen's union. It isn't yet clear whether it will attend the policemen's ball.

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