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Photo by Brian Sokol
Careful. Robocop is watching.
DEUS EX MACHINA

Photos: How a female entrepreneur helped Kinshasa’s traffic problem, one robocop at a time

By Annalisa Merelli

Despite being home to only 2% of the world’s automotive vehicles, the sub-Saharan Africa region leads for the rate of deaths on the road, with an average of 24.1 deaths per 100 000 population that rises up to 27.8 deaths per 100,000 in the 19 middle income countries on the continent (as a comparison, the global average for middle-income countries is 20.1 per 100,000 people).

In Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) capital and biggest city, the deaths on the road have topped 2,276 since 2007, the Guardian reported. Since last year, however, the traffic police of the city can count on a special helping hand: Robocop—or, well, a relative.

Three mechanic policemen, Tamuke, Mwaluke and Kisanga, were installed at three of the city’s main traffic junctions in March 2015. The robots work by video recording traffic behavior and transmitting footage to the police to deter drivers from breaking road regulations. The robots–which stand at 2.5 m high and weigh 250kg—are made of aluminum and powered by solar panels. They cost $27,500, while the initial prototypes, installed in late 2013, cost $10,000.

The robots were designed by Women’s Technologies (Wotech), a Congolese cooperative employing a few female and male engineers led by Thérèse Izay Kirongozo, an entrepreneur whose businesses include three restaurants aside from Wotech.

Photographer Brian Sokol first saw the robocops in Kinshasa when he was traveling through the DRC to report for the UN High Commissariat for Refugees (UNHCR).

“At first, I wasn’t sure what I was seeing, and if it was meant as some kind of joke—a visual pun on the British term “traffic robot” to refer to a stoplight,” he told Quartz. He was however informed that what he was looking at wasn’t some form of public art, but a traffic management device.

“After finishing a story on a large, humanitarian tragedy unfolding in the Katanga Province, I found myself back in Kinshasa wanting to photograph something less heavy,” he remembers and “the robocops seemed like they would give me a view into the opposite side of Congo—something positive, creative and new.”

Photo by Brian Sokol
Therese Kirongozi, the president of Women’s Tech, poses above a half-completed humanoid robocop in her workshop.
Photo by Brian Sokol
Its ‘eyes’ made out of small cameras, its head a dusty collection of bonded aluminum plates, one of Congo’s humanioid robot traffic police sits in a Kinshasa workshop, waiting to be finished and deployed on the streets.
Photo by Brian Sokol
Therese Kirongozi sits in the workshop in Kinshasa.
Photo by Brian Sokol
The busy streets of KInshasa.
Photo by Brian Sokol
One of the robots at work in a busy intersection.
Photo by Brian Sokol
Thérèse Kirongozi interacts with local police.
Photo by Brian Sokol
WoTech’s business plan.
Photo by Brian Sokol
Parts of the robot officer being assembled.
Photo by Brian Sokol
A robot officer watches over traffic.
Photo by Brian Sokol
The police receives the images recorded by the robots.
Photo by Brian Sokol
This is the metallic midrif of a robot police officer.
Photo by Brian Sokol
The streets of Kinshasa at night.
Photo by Brian Sokol
A robot officer watches over the streets at night.