Future Tense

Cue RoboCop Jokes: Meet South Korea’s New Robot Prison Guards

Last November, South Korea unveiled plans to test out robot prison guards intended to monitor inmates for suicidal and violent behavior.

Now Reuters reports that South Korea has started testing the machines.

 “By using the 3D depth camera, it will detect every detail of actions happening inside through a window. So, when there is an unusual behaviour, it’s going to analyse it and report the problem to the control system. Therefore, correctional officers will run and arrive at the scene in time,” Lee Baik-Chul, chairman of the Asian Forum for Corrections, told Reuters.  


In November, officials estimated that the month-long test, involving three 5-foot robots, would cost 1 billion South Korean won, or about $900,000. That doesn’t include the cost of developing the machines. But officials hope that eventually, the robots could help cut costs, which could be valuable for countries experiencing acute prison overcrowding, like in Latin America.

According to Reuters, designers are hoping to expand the machine’s functionality to include body searches. On IEEE Spectrum, Evan Ackerman cuts to the crux of the issue: “[H[ow likely are you to try and sneak contraband into a prison if you encounter a robot snapping a latex glove over its steely, probe-like fingers?” But frankly, switching to (safe) machine cavity searches would likely appeal to both inmates and guards of the human variety. We feel no shame in front of machines.

Previously, South Korea has tested using robots to help patrol the DMZ.