Camel racing, a favorite pastime in the Middle East, has taken flack from human-rights advocates for the young boys imported to jockey the humpbacked desert beasts. Accordingly, the government of Qatar announced right before year's end that it was banning child jockeys. Their replacements? Why, robots, of course. Camel racers in Qatar have reportedly tested remote-controlled, titanium robot jockeys built by an unnamed Swiss company. Camel owners would jockey via joystick from the sidelines as the animals galumph around a kilometers-long track. The robots are apparently armed with whips, and future models may include cameras to give the controllers a jockey's-eye view. But exactly how they work is being kept secret for now. “They won't let me near the robot,” says Chuck Thorpe, a member of the Robotics Institute at Carnegie-Mellon University's Qatar campus. He speculates that remote control might work well in camel races, which require little tight maneuvering compared with horse races.
This article was originally published with the title "Remote-Controlled Hump" in Scientific American 292, 3, 30 (March 2005)