Dubai’s police force will welcome a real-life Robocop to its streets this winter. It’s a self-driving car, the size of a child’s toy buggy, that comes with an integral drone. Could this be coming to your city soon?

The O-R3 autonomous vehicle comes from OTSAW Digital in Singapore and will patrol the streets of Dubai around the clock. The government in Dubai has an agreement in principle to put 100 of them on the street by 2020.

Facial scanning is next-level surveillance

The scanning technology is intriguing and the implication is that facial recognition software will scan the population and potentially identify wanted and known criminals.

As Artificial Intelligence develops, then robots like this and camera-equipped drones could become a regular feature in cities around the world.

It’s a 1984-style future where there simply is no hiding place for criminals and the computers could potentially track our every move.

There’s no doubt that the chance to pick up criminals before they cause more trouble is a good thing, but constant and all-seeing surveillance is a high-price to pay.

Of course, major cities are heading towards total surveillance with Closed Circuit Television and cameras mounted high above the street in any case.

But a robot that registers your face and processes it against criminal and immigration records, before potentially placing you under arrest, is a serious step.

Other self-driving cops are already on duty

The E-Patrol Robot Sheriff is already on duty in Zhengzhou East Railway Station in China, with similar facial processing technology. Dubai also put a humanoid robot into action last month.

Eventually, it seems inevitable that similar drones will patrol the streets of New York, London and Paris. Dubai is leading the way and wants 25% of its police force to be robots before 2030.

The Middle Eastern state argues that using robots will actually reduce the police presence and will be less intrusive than a traditional police force for most of the population.

Commander of the Dubai Police Force, Major General Abdullah Khalifa Al Marri, said: “We seek to augment operations with the help of technology such as robots. Essentially, we aim for streets to be safe and peaceful even without heavy police patrol.”

It will take over “low-level order enforcement tasks,” which almost certainly includes parking violations. It will also report unattended luggage and other anomalies to the operator at headquarters.

Self-driving Robocop has an eye in the sky

The O-R3’s main talent, though, will be finding criminals hiding in plain sight, spotting crimes in progress and following perpetrators so that the police can chase them down.

When the O-R3 runs into a serious obstacle, or the criminal jumps a fence, then the drone that is housed in the rear can take over the tracking job.

It was designed as a general security robot and can patrol industrial units and office blocks, as well as the city streets. It comes with a camera-based self-driving system, which can detect and avoid objects and traffic.

The competition is coming

The OR-3 will go head-to-head with the likes of the Knightscope K5, but there’s an arsenal of law enforcement robots on the way and they will get increasingly sophisticated. The security industry is a huge market and autonomous robots like this could render the old-school security guard, and even some police officers, obsolete.

So, the O-R3 is just the first wave of self-driving, robot police officers. Whether we like it or not, this is the future.