By Paul Ndiho
Could robotic traffic cops become the ultimate answer to solving one of the worst traffic jams in the democratic republic of Congo? These 8-foot traffic robots are the talk of the town — and they’re giving human traffic police some severe competition.
The Congolese capital – Kinshasa has one of the worst traffic problems in the region. In the sprawling city of over 12 million, residents often say they plan their lives around the heavy traffic, which usually continues throughout the day. Driving short distances can often take hours. Drivers often disregard simple traffic rules. Traffic patterns are very unpredictable in Kinshasa. If you are driving to a location less than a mile away, you might need to give yourself 60 minutes lead time, and sometimes it’s even faster to walk.
Disgusted by the city’s traffic, Therese Izzy, a Congolese engineer, set out to find a solution. Working under the umbrella organization of Congolese women engineers, they developed a homegrown innovation dubbed robotic traffic lights. It’s an invention makes it difficult for Kinshasa’s motorists to get away with traffic violations.
“The robot has two important applications; the first application is for road safety, it functions like any traffic lights in the world. The second application is the surveillance cameras. The robots send images in real time to the monitoring team.”
The solar-powered aluminum robots are gigantic, towering over the streets jammed with cars and motorcycles blasting their horns and jostling for room.
Many commuters are forced to travel in old vehicles that often leave them stranded.
“What’s right about the robot is that it gives you clear signals. Unlike traffic police, i think the robot is better because they don’t to stop and talk to you. According to Kadomula, a motorist.
Since 2013, these robots have been helping to control Kinshasa’s traffic, with rotating chests and surveillance cameras that record the flow of traffic and send real-time images to the police station who use the footage to monitor infractions. Another motorist shares a similar sentiment.
“I prefer the robot. Because you cannot distract the robot. And the traffic police can ask you for money. So I prefer the robot.”
What started out as a pilot project, has now expanded beyond the capital city, to include Lubumbashi and Matadi. Izay says this technology is being adopted in other countries in the region.
“We are ready, we are waiting for other countries to invite us to transfer our technology, and we have already signed a contract with C.A.R We are waiting for them to finance the project. We are in talks with Ivory Coast, Congo Brazzaville, and Gabon.
Kinshasa’s rush hour traffic is slowly easing at some of its major intersections. Not all motorists are fully on board with the robots.
“The robot works fine it’s good. But sometimes it does not work very well, we, drivers sometimes don’t follow its signals.”
Some critics say that at a cost about 25-thousand dollars per unit, the robots are too expensive for most of the cities in the region. However, Therese Izay, says her company is trying to position itself as a rising force in the area by producing more traffic controlling robots.