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Technology met tradition this week, when a camel race in Doha, Qatar for the first time featured robots at the reins.

On July 13, workers fixed robotic jockeys on the backs of seven camels and raced the machine-mounted animals around a track. Operators controlled the jockeys remotely, signaling them to pull their reins and prod the camels with whips.

This feat of technology was also a development in human rights. Racing-camel owners in many Persian Gulf countries traditionally use children as jockeys, sometimes as young as four years old. Faced with pressure from human rights groups, Qatar outlawed the practice last December and looked to technology to keep the races running.

Officials approached the Swiss robotics firm K-Team, which came up with a compact solution. The new robot jockeys weigh 57 pounds (26 kilograms) and cost about U.S. $5,500 each.

The market for these robotic riders may soon be growing. In April the United Arab Emirates announced that it too would use robots in camel races. And in May, Oman declared a ban on child jockeys, effective this fall.

Sheik Abdullah bin Saud, the Qatari official in charge of the robot project, told the Associated Press in April that the goal of the program was to "improve the speed, the weight, the aerodynamics, to reach the ultimate goal of completely phasing out children used as jockeys."

 - Blake de Pastino

 

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