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A European ‘Roborder’ project aims to develop “a fully-functional autonomous border surveillance system”, and involves research institutions, defense companies, and the police or border agencies from European states.

The project encompasses the use of unmanned mobile robots including aerial, water surface, underwater and ground vehicles which will incorporate multimodal sensors as part of an interoperable network.

As part of this experimental EU-funded research project, the police service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) is involved in the development of an AI (Artificial Intelligence) controlled border surveillance system.

The technology will be used to identify and track illegal activities, including unauthorized sea or land border crossings, organized crime activity in remote border areas, and marine pollution detection.

A developer for the project previously explained the technologies to The Intercept news website, stating that “the robots will be able to identify humans and independently decide whether they represent a threat. If they determine that you may have committed a crime, they will notify border police.”

The project, which began in 2017 and is due to end in August 2021, received 90% of its €8.9million budget from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 investment program, under the ‘Border Security: autonomous systems and control systems’ funding stream.

A spokesperson for the PSNI said that involvement in Roborder “gives the police service access to leading European research institutes and organizations enabling us to strategically plan for how these future systems may form part of the delivery of our services to the public”.

The PSNI added: “It also allows us to participate in state-of-the-art research, with multiple organisations, allowing us to improve our professional development. To date our work has mainly focused on providing non-technical advice to research partners, for example, on how the products developed may be used.”

The PSNI has used drones within Northern Ireland since 2013. They were originally purchased as part of preparations for the G8 summit held in Enniskillen, to combat large-scale protests, which did not materialize.

The PSNI had used drones 372 times across Northern Ireland from June 2013 – March 2019, not including the “covert” use of drones, as reported by