The 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.