Camel racing has been the “the Sport of Sheiks” in the Middle Eastern world for centuries. Boys, typically around four years old or so, were often starved to add less weight to the camel, and used as jockeys. (Most specifically in Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.) These kids were typically either kidnap victims or sold into slavery by their poverty stricken parents.
This began to change in 2002 when the United Arab Emirates, under mounting international pressure, outlawed the use of boys under the age of fifteen as jockeys. Qatar followed suit in 2005.
But whether it was the aesthetic of a tiny child mounted atop a gallumphing mountain of camel, or simply the inescapable chase to go just a little bit faster, adolescent and adult jockeys were simply not going to be an adequate replacement for a half-starved four year old. A solution needed to be found, and fast.
Enter the robots.
A year before they made the decision to pull the plug on the child rodeo, the UAE began researching building Robot Jocks. Uh… jockeys. As soon as they realized it was actually a feasible project, they also decided that the baby jockeys and the thriving child slave trade that had sprung up around them was simply a deplorable situation that could not be allowed to continue. The first designs were sent to Switzerland for production, and while functional, the camels themselves had… issues. It wasn’t until faces, scarves, hats, sunglasses, and perfume had been added to the robots that the camels chilled enough to run races.
Spurred on by the successes of the UAE, Qatar jumped into the game. Once it was clear that the population didn’t seem to mind not seeing abused little boys, Qatar outlawed kiddie jockeys as well, and then went the further step of insisting that all camel races be conducted by robots. (Despite my sarcasm, I do applaud these decisions.)
The Swiss model was deemed too heavy, and the 17 kg design has been replaced by a 2.5 kg remote controlled robot that is both cheaper, and able to be produced locally.
Recently there was a small flap in Dubai (part of the UAE) when a pair of inventive entrepreneurs began selling specially modified robot riders capable of delivering painful electric shocks to the camels beneath. I guess racers simply weren’t happy unless someone was being abused.
As far as I know, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia continue to steal, starve, and race children for their pleasure. Reports of a reward being offered by Bill Gates to the first hacker to reprogram all the existing robot jockeys into an unstoppable camel cavalry with instructions to overthrow these two governments is probably just an unfounded rumor… but it sure would be funny.