Robot Jockeys Replace Kids in Camel Races

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For years, jockeys in Middle East camel races were small children, some as young as five, who were brought from South Asia and virtually enslaved.

But now, protests from human rights groups that the child jockeys were being exploited have forced a remarkable solution -- robot jockeys.

Camel racing in Arabia goes back hundreds of years, part of the deep attachment that the Gulf Arabs have to the extraordinary desert animals.

The smaller the jockeys, the faster the camels can run. So today in the Gulf States, six-pound robots are saddling up in the paddock, rather than 50-pound children.

The robots have actually improved the camels' running time, and reduced leg injuries.

The robot jockey is basically a box with a battery, a walkie-talkie and a remote switch, like one used to lock a car, that controls a whip.

A camel race is actually two parallel races. Camels race on the track itself -- and the owners, speeding alongside in their vehicles, shout into their walkie-talkies and crack the whip with their remote switch.

The camel race is a very strange sight -- sort of like "Lawrence of Arabia" meets the Long Island Expressway.

Dr. Lulu Skidmore breeds racing camels for the ruler of Dubai. She said a camel can be worth $1 million if it wins a race. She thinks that robot jockeys are going to save the sport of sheikhs.

"The camels seem to respond to them. They seem to gallop the track in the same way," Skidmore said. "The owners seem to be happy, I think. So to keep the sport going, I hope they're here to stay."

There are now an estimated 20,000 robots in Dubai alone. Some are even dressed to look like the exploited, underfed children they have replaced.

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