Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is one of the largest cities in Africa, with a population of well over 10m. Nonetheless, when recruiting traffic wardens, it’s looked to the ranks of the distinctly non-human: five of them are robots, designed and built by local engineers to manage the city’s most gridlocked junctions.
The aluminium and steel robots stand eight feet tall and look a lot like Transformers, complete with (not strictly necessary) human-style faces and voices which direct pedestrians. Their arms lift and rotate to direct traffic and pedestrians in different directions; they’re also fitted with red and green lights. Lodged inside their chests are surveillance cameras which record passing traffic.
The first two robots were installed in 2013, with a further three unveiled this year. While they’re undoubtedly fun to look at, some have accused the government of using them to distract from the city’s wider traffic problems. As Sam Sturgis notes at Citylab:
This is not a legitimate solution for a city bursting at the seams with informal urbanisation. The robots are basically glorified traffic lights – which Kinshasa needs more of in general.