Hong Kong’s traffic offenders will find it harder to escape being booked when the police deploy two robots equipped with artificial intelligence (AI) technology to monitor busy city streets. The police issued about 3.3 million fixed penalty tickets for illegal parking last year, up more than a fifth from about 2.7 million in 2020. With fines of HK$320 (US$40) per ticket generating more than HK$1 billion in revenue for the government last year alone. Currently, officers have to be present to issue tickets at the scene, or a mobile video team has to capture evidence for tickets to be issued later. As soon as police leave, little can be done to prevent motorists from flouting the rules again. Now the police are preparing to deploy an “Intelligence Traffic Enforcement Robot” designed by officers from the Hong Kong Island traffic unit to arrest motorists who ignore road markings and traffic signs and stop illegally, causing congestion in restricted zones. The police regard such illegal stopping, even as part of loading and unloading vehicles, as moving traffic offences. A police source said the robot would also look out for chauffeur-driven limousines waiting for their owners outside office blocks or eateries in Central. Stationary vehicles have been regularly found lined up along Ice House Street, Queen Road’s Central, Chater Road, Pottinger Street and Jackson Road in Central during morning and evening peak hours and lunchtime on weekdays. “The use of robots can save a lot of manpower and enhance efficiency and effectiveness in traffic enforcement,” the force insider said. He added that they would also deter irresponsible drivers who stop illegally and cause congestion on busy streets. The source said HK$2.4 million in funding was being sought to update and fine-tune the system with the help of the Hong Kong Productivity Council before the pilot scheme could begin, with a possible launch being as early as September. Hong Kong’s first automated parking system to begin service on Thursday The robot comes in the shape of a tower with two night-vision and high-definition cameras on the top, and a box at its base storing a computer with video analytic software with artificial intelligence. The equipment is programmed to monitor traffic and record vehicles that break traffic rules, including stopping illegally along single and double yellow lines, bus stops and yellow box junctions, the source said. The robot’s recording function first identifies a stationary vehicle that makes an illegal stop for 10 seconds. The AI system will then retrieve video footage of the vehicle 30 seconds before and after it was recorded stopping for 10 seconds. The 70-second video will then be transmitted to a server at the Hong Kong Island traffic headquarters in Sai Wan Ho. Officers will check the video footage to verify that an offence was committed before taking appropriate action, including issuing a fixed penalty ticket. The portable tower can be deployed to any black spots where motorists are known to regularly break the rules. The source said no action would be taken against emergency vehicles, including ambulances, and those with restricted-zone parking permits, such as armoured vehicles transferring cash. How Hong Kong can swiftly crack down on abandoned vehicles The Hong Kong Island traffic unit won a merit award with its design of the robot as part of the government-run Leading Towards Robotics Technologies Innovation Competition last July. The traffic unit then teamed up with an IT company to develop and test the system, before trying the two camera towers on the street. The force has already been adopting electronic devices in law enforcement on Hong Kong’s roads. Since 2020, traffic wardens have been equipped with smartphones and portable printers in a trial run for issuing e-tickets for illegal parking. Last year, officers also began conducting stop-and-search checks with a new app to inspect residents’ ID cards, which has reduced the verification process from five minutes to just 15 seconds. The “Beat App”, installed in police work phones, is equipped with an optical character recognition function able to scan text and extract the name, document number, date of birth, gender and issue date from an ID card or passport to ensure officers can obtain accurate information.