Tunisian police using robots to tell people to stay home

The robots were seen zipping through downtown Tunis and handing out infractions to those in violation of quarantine measures.
Wednesday 25/03/2020
A robot patrols the street of downtown Tunis during a nationwide quarantine. (Tunisian Ministry of the Interior/ Facebook)
A robot patrols the street of downtown Tunis during a nationwide quarantine. (Tunisian Ministry of the Interior/ Facebook)

TUNIS - As Tunisian authorities struggle to enforce a nationwide lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic, security robots are being deployed to help patrol public spaces.

The P-Guard, a series of outdoor security bots developed by Tunisian company ENOVA Robotics, was rolled out by the Interior Ministry March 24, days after the public was ordered to quarantine.

Zipping through downtown Tunis and handing out infractions to those in violation of quarantine measures, the nifty security devices are making a splash with the public after some were reluctant to follow government directives.

With thermal anomaly detection, real-time video and audio capabilities and a laser telemetry system, the vehicles are an effective tool for ministry officials to communicate government messages and interact with the public while limiting person-to-person contact, explained Radhouane Ben Farhat, commercial director of ENOVA Robotics.

“During this health crisis, the robot is the best solution to keep police secure from coronavirus while giving them a direct link to the public,” Ben Farhat told The Arab Weekly, adding that the vehicle is also capable of carrying loads such as food and medicine.

Tunisia, which has 173 confirmed cases of coronavirus, including one death, has implemented strict security procedures to stop the virus’s spread, including a general quarantine, the closure of non-vital business sectors and the suspension of flights.

But some segments of the population have been hard-pressed to go along with the measures, defying an earlier 12-hour curfew and later quarantine measures by continuing to meet and socialise in public. In the north-eastern district of Nabeul, Regional Health Director Adel Haddadi said as many as 90% of returnees from abroad were failing to self-quarantine as required. While in the governorate of Manouba outside Tunis, three citizens were placed under house arrest March 23 after a monitoring committee ruled they had failed to respect quarantine measures.

ENOVA Robotics’ P-Guard security bot, which is controlled remotely by ministry officials, could help amplify the government’s message that staying at home is critical to stopping the spread of COVID-19.

Founded in 2014, ENOVA Robotics is a Tunisian company specialised in mobile roots development and artificial intelligence.  In addition to the P-Guard, the company produces various robot models that provide security and field services applications in numerous settings. One of ENOVA’s newest designs, Veasense, is used in overseas health-care facilities and can help doctors provide preliminary diagnoses remotely, according to the company’s website.