i-495ed63d826c1a286801642f29d87eaa-bbqbot.jpgThe Barbeque Bot reminds me of an old Harlan Ellison story in at least one way: This is all about using advanced technology to “enforce” laws by private citizens. In the Harlan Ellison story I’m thinking of, individual drivers attack other drivers with advanced weapons built into their cards. (I understand Ellison wrote this story after spending a weekend in Boston.) But each time a driver in a particular battle activates a new weapon, a the car’s computer asks for verification of an increase in insurance premium for that vehicle.

The following story is from CNN.

It’s midnight on the streets of Atlanta, and bar owner Rufus Terrill patrols his neighborhood with a rolling crime fighter of his own creation. Meet “Bum-bot,” as Terrill describes it; others in his neighborhood call it simply, “Robocop.”

It’s a barbecue smoker mounted on a three-wheeled scooter, and armed with an infrared camera, spotlight, loudspeaker and aluminum water cannon that shoots a stream of icy water about 20 feet.

Operated by remote control, the robot spotlights trespassers on property down the street from his bar, O’Terrill’s. Using a walkie-talkie, Terrill belts out through the robot’s loudspeaker, “That’s private property. You guys need to get out of here.”

Well, so far, no guns or bombs. That would require an increase in insurance premiums, most likely.

The nocturnal activities in the square that Terril’s BBQBot patrols has become a haven for the usual nocturnal behaviors, very much annoying Lydia Meretidh, operator of the Beacon of Light Daycare Center.

“This whole square is enveloped with homeless people and drug dealers, defecating, urinating, prostituting — the whole nine yards. And the overflow of that behavior, we get to cleanup every morning,” she says.

Terrill, an engineer by trade, is also a board member at the day care center. Tired of cleaning up after the shady characters, he decided to take action. That’s when he built his downtown Darth Vader of sorts.

“He’s a neighborhood vigilante,” says Meredith, “and when he came up with this … I said, ‘Praise God.’ “

There is a homeless shelter in the vicinity, which is run by Anita Beatty, who is not entirely sanguine about having a robot patrolling her neighborhood.

“I just think the whole ‘Robocop’ spraying people is a little freaky. We really need some police protection in this neighborhood. I think it’s confusing the issue. I think the issue is homeless people. They are being confused with the folks who prey on them and sell them drugs,” she says.

The police consider an Automaton nee Barbecue Smoker spraying water to be a form of assault, and this makes them frown.

“There’s no problem with the robot going up and down the street or being visible or any of the other things it does — with the exception of spraying water on people. Then, it becomes an assault no matter where it happens,” according to Police Major Lane Hagin.

On this night, as Terrill and his robot make their way to the street corner, he shines the robot’s spotlight on the parking lot of the daycare center. One by one, the shadowy figures stand up, walk away and saunter down the street.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, when I go up there and once I turn the spotlight on and I talk to them through the speaker, they leave,” he says.

Hint: Get a motion detecting spotlight or two.


  1. #1 rpenner
    March 8, 2008

    More framing of terms detected. If drug dealers literally preyed upon homeless, more drug dealers would lead to less homeless. Instead there are economic (which is to say decision making) reasons why the two are associated with each other. Since they are in an economic cabal, persecuting either one or both will change the behavior of both.

    But maybe I’m just sounding mean since I haven’t had my 2 liters of Diet Coke this morning.

  2. #2 John McKay
    March 8, 2008

    The Ellison story is “Along the Scenic Route.” It’s one of my favorites.

  3. #3 the real cmf
    March 9, 2008

    … I said, ‘Praise God.’ *pause*

    and rpenner, you ARE sounding mean. As I write this I am sitting in a homeless shelter, tending to that very dualistic paradigm/contradiction.

    Your comment is not funny, but indicative of the type of malaise that principled people fall into when the “frame” comes from an institutionalized source, i.e. the police make the connection between drug addicts and dealers, and then lump alcoholics, mentally ill, and ‘other’ homeless human beings into that category. But it is not “black and white”.

    There are economic reasons why whales eat krill, concurrent with Japanese people over fishing the whale, but there are the barnacles, GreenPeace, and vegetarians as outliers that cannot be so easily measured.

    Moreso, there is the sea, and then, the nature of that sea which cannot be so easily poured into dualistic paradigms.

  4. #4 J. Harris
    July 14, 2010

    The technology of Walkie talkies radios, where next?
    This article is great, it makes me think of all the reasons just to stay indoors on a charged humid weekend evening. When in fact, a stroll would be nice but risky in our now liberally unsafe world.

    Alcohol, Testosterone, male & female hormones lead to the same scenes all over the world on a Friday or Saturday night.

    Love the use of the walkie Talkie to tame the drink induced cerebral deficient, walking or not, human emotional land mines. Not sure about robotic roaming robots taming human detritus, no authority to date knows when to stop crossing the inhuman line before the riots start.

    A spin on the roaming robo cop stile robot & highly controversial but effective against the younger potential offenders, is, the ultra high pitched ‘buzz’ that only the young ears can pick up. Used by some store holders in the uk to limit non spending, damage creating young from hanging around their premises.

    Now I can imagine the mobile walkie talkie robot being ideal for this, especially if it can be made airborne.

    Just imagine if the perpetrators could be followed unnoticed at a safe height, herding if you like by sound interference. Trouble would go home, but how many times would this happen before the knock on the door at 6am by the authorities to put a little cause & effect back into the perpetrators lives.

    CCTV with Walkie Talkies, it’s only a matter of time before small, not so high off the ground mobile units are available to the masses. Some will be used for good or at least in the name of good. The larger amount One must suspect will be used to enforce what is currently too expensive to enforce.

    What will be the straw that breaks the back of the end of freedom in your mind? Perhaps, you have already realized you are not free, will you just capitulate your gene pool future to a life of delusional freedoms? Freedoms, your young will never know, like the battery hens caged, ready for the Sunday roast… Free, Free to roam the inside of their cage, until Dinner time comes.

    It’s worth a visit to see how Walkie Talkies Radios have moved on while we have been busy playing with our mobile phones.

    Roger Roger
    jj off
    Over ‘n’Out