For years human rights activists have been campaigning against the use of South Asian child jockeys (some as young as five) in the popular camel races in Gulf countries such as Kuwait, Bahrain and United Arab Emirates (Essay NI 380). The painful experience of being tied to the camel’s back makes these young jockeys cry out loud and these cries spur the animal to run faster. At one time, there were an estimated 40,000 jockeys – most smuggled in from poverty-stricken areas of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Technology to the rescue! Gulf countries have started trialling the first prototype of a remote-controlled Swiss-designed mechanical jockey. The compact, lightweight and intelligent robotic jockey receives orders through a remote-control system. Its robotic jersey is sprayed with scent traditionally used by the trainers. Perhaps the robot’s most remarkable feature is that it has been designed to gesture like a human jockey.
‘It is important that the camel recognizes and accepts the robot so we had to make him as human as possible,’ says Alexander Colat, executive-director of the Swiss firm K-Team.