Russian Robot Escapes Its Masters, Flees Straight Into Traffic

Don't worry, the rise of the machines is still a ways away.

Russian Robot Escape

In a scene somehow not emanating from a theater near you, the BBC reports a Russian robot escaped a lab and caused a small traffic jam outside the Promobot laboratories in the city of Perm, near the Ural Mountains. After engineers taught the robot to navigate independently—have the scientists never seenany robopocalyptic movies?—it made use of an open gate and motored out into the street, making it more than 150 feet before its batteries ran dry, its dreams of electric sheep deferred.

A video taken by a bystander portrays quite the scene of pre-apocalyptic portent: a bowed, vaguely humanoid robot blocking traffic, guarded by a sheepish Russian traffic officer. A plaid-clad man jogs into the street, confers with the officer, and wheels the iPod-white Rosie the Robot knockoff back to the lab, its 40-minute sojourn in the sun concluded. Bus passengers look on, seemingly wondering: Is it time to throw in the towel and accept our work-in-progress overlords?

Because it’s hard not be cynical in a nation in which corruption flows more freely than Baltic crude, some Russians are calling the “escape” a hoax—Promobot may have released the little machine to drum up publicity for its rudimentary robot. According to the company’s website, the Promobot V2 is designed to be a glorified speaker, giving directions and spewing promotional slogans (hence the “Promo” part) to people in densely concentrated public areas, like malls.

If that turns out to be true, bus passengers and technological Cassandras can breath easy. For that would mean this robot excursion was not a product of malevolent bits and bytes, but a force much more pervasive and powerful, even in Russia: capitalism.