National border control strategy reveals that “autonomous swarms of robots” as well as drones can be expected to take part in the protection of Hungary’s southern borders, beginning as early as the end of 2021. Nevertheless, at this point, even the cabinet admitted that the migration crisis for Hungary was over.

According to Népszava, Hungary is taking part in developing so-called “autonomous swarms of robots with the aim of border protection.” The proposed date of when the robots would join the work to protect the country’s borders is the end of 2021. 

We know from the police’s website that the technical development of the robots has been in progress since 2017, with the support of the EU Horizon 2020 fund. Numerous EU countries and safety organisations are a part of the project nicknamed “Roborder.”

For instance, in Hungary, the Hungarian National Police Headquarters (ORFK) offered HUF 83.7 million (EUR 253,360) of support to the project.

Most of the information about how the Roborder system would work is classified. So far, we know that the system will be made up of moving robotic units, such as small vehicles with wheels, that patrol the area autonomously and make recordings. There will also be surveillance drones. Based on the robots and drones’ observations, officers in charge will decide whether “live backup” is needed.

Even though in Hungary, there has not been too much emphasis put on the ongoing developments of the border protection system, the journal called The Intercept reported about it as early as this May.

According to the IT experts interviewed by the reputable journal, implementing a combination of autonomous robots and drones is dangerous territory, as the money the EU gave was not for military purposes. However, Noel Sharkey, a professor working with artificial intelligence (AI) at the University of Sheffield, said that in countries where border protection is a political issue, “it is only a matter of time that these drones will be made capable of stopping people.”

Since there are already drones available that include tasers, pepper spray, and rubber bullet-shooting weapons, countries where there is a threat of mass migration may be tempted to add these to their drones, too, even though the official Roborder project does not include adding weapons to the border protection system. Nevertheless, as Sharkey put it, “The main question is: where is the project heading?”

In some aspects, it makes sense that the government is dedicating so much effort to ensure that robots can protect the borders: there is a serious shortage of police officers. It often happens that soldiers help out at the borders. On the other hand, since by now, even the government agrees that there is no migration crisis at the borders of Hungary, the rush to implement these robots does not seem valid.

While in 2015, at the time of the crisis, there were 456,000 instances where border protection had to interfere, last year, only 5,600 people approached or crossed the Hungarian border.

Unfortunately, ORFK declined to answer questions, including how many of these robots with weapons they would add the work at the border.

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