The tradition of racing thoroughbreds (thoroughbred camels, that is) is an old one in the United Arab Emirates. But the tradition has taken an odd new twist this season, with the introduction of the first robot jockeys at the helm of these speedy ungulates. Manufactured in Geneva at a cost of up to $30,000, the robojockeys include shock absorbers, GPS systems, and remote-control whips that are operated by the camels’ owners from SUVs which race along the sidelines. These robots are, among other things, an attempt to put an end to a surprising and disconcerting problem arising from the emirates’ multi-million dollar camel racing industry: child trafficking.
Camel owners seeking to pull in their share of the winnings began smuggling in children in the 1970s–largely from southeast Asia–to ride the animals. The push for faster and faster times led to abysmal treatment, with children suffering from malnutrition and riding accidents, among other abuses. (A lighter jockey is a faster jockey, goes the thinking.) These robots may be a step in the right direction for the fabulously oil-wealthy state, surely one of the only places in the world where such an odd and expensive solution would be feasible. Technology–like advanced picking machines–has helped hasten the end of labor servitude before.
Old School Camel Racing (photo: Lindie Naughton)