DOHA, Qatar -- With the reins in one hand and a whip in the other, the purple-jerseyed rider prodded a camel around the track.
But this jockey wasn't the usual underfed boy. The jockey was a robot.
Under the watchful eyes of his Swiss developer, Alexandre Colot of Swiss robotics firm K-Team, and his Qatari owners, the robot -- dubbed Kamel -- rode a racing camel for 1.5 miles, reaching speeds of 25 miles per hour in a noncompetitive trial run.
Spurring the robots' development has been vehement condemnation from human rights groups of the sport's regular jockeys.
Activists say there are about 40,000 boy jockeys, some as young as 4, who are either bought from their parents or kidnapped from their home countries and taken to the Gulf to ride. The boys live in bleak conditions and are underfed before races to keep their weight down.
In Qatar, ruling sheiks have responded to calls for banning the use of boy jockeys by embracing robots as the best solution.
Sheik Abdullah bin Saud, the Qatari official in charge of the project, said the plan is to keep developing the robot until it is ready to take over.
''We can't stop these races. They are part of our history and tradition, so we have tried to find an alternative," Sheik Abdullah said.