South Korea is testing out a futuristic line of robotic prison guards in the city of Pohang starting next March. But the mechanical sentries are hardly bell ringers for a cold, dystopian future; in fact, designers are working to make the bots as "humane and friendly" as possible. Here's a brief guide:
So these are not Terminator-style enforcers?
No, "the robots are not terminators," says professor Lee Baik-chul of Kyonggi University, leader of the $863,000 project. "Their job is not cracking down on violent prisoners. They are helpers." Their primary task is to patrol prison corridors and monitor cells, alerting human guards to anything unusual, such as a fight or potential suicide. They're meant to ease guards' workloads.
No machine guns or anything?
Nope. The three bots in Pohang stand just 5 feet tall, with four wheels, cameras, and other sensors. And they have an "unassuming, even amiable look about them, à la Casper the Friendly Ghost," says Nick Carbone at TIME. "That's because designers don't intend for the robots to instill fear in the prisoners." Inmates can even use the bots to summon help if they're sick or in danger.
Are there any other uses for robots like these?
South Korea, looking to lead the robot revolution, has already tested automated guards on the North Korean border. And since 2009 the nation has been using English-teaching robots in schools. Even if these androids might someday put their human counterparts out of work, they're being welcomed at Pohang prison, says Lee, especially by guards on the night shift.