By Don Willmott
What can robots do better than humans? Weld auto bodies? Inspect suspicious packages? Take your cat for a spin? Humans still hold the advantage in most occupations, but with each passing year, the march of the robots progresses a little bit closer to home.
Enter the Knightscope K5 security robot, and as it glides your way, don't try anything stupid--because it's watching you. As of this summer, 24 of these five-foot-tall, 300-pound security minders have been deployed around Silicon Valley on corporate campuses and in data centers, and in one highly publicized event last May, two K5s patrolled the Stanford Shopping Center. That's right. The K5 is gunning (so to speak) for mall cops...or at least to act as an assistant mall cop.
The Knightscope K5 is five feet tall and weighs 300 pounds. It's significantly bigger than R2-D2. (Source: Knightscope).
The best case for employing the K5 is financial. Knightscope is renting them out for $6.25 per hour--less than minimum wage, you'll note--and they can work pretty much constantly, bringing what the company calls their "physically commanding presence" down dark hallways and to the last spot in the parking lot. And while they're not packing heat (although it's totally fun to imagine that they are), they're fully loaded with a laundry list of features that make them pretty great watchmen:
- 360-degree high-definition, low-light video cameras and microphones
- Thermal imaging and night vision
- An audio event detection system that can hear things like breaking glass
- An automatic license plate recognition (ALPR) camera
- Broadcast capabilities
- Light detection and ranging (LIDAR) devices
- Directional microphones
- Proximity sensors
- An inertial measurement unit
- A wheel odometry unit
- A built-in emergency intercom
The idea is that as the K5 gathers real-time data through its numerous sensors, Knightscope processes it through a predictive analytics engine that combines it with existing business, government, and crowd-sourced social data sets to determine if there is a concern or threat in the area. ("Hmm, it's very strange that this car is parked here at 2:15 a.m.") If there's an issue, a notification goes out through the Knightscope Security Operations Center. A person in trouble can also simply tap the K5 on its head to call for help.
The K5 doesn't even need a chair. Should human security personnel be worried? (Source: Knightscope)
So why not just knock the K5 over or put a bullet through its brain? The company contends that the robot is pretty big and intimidating and that criminals will wonder what, exactly, it's capable of and steer clear of it...just in case.
Meanwhile, the K5 will simply roll on through the night, monitoring its energy level and heading back to recharge its lithium ion battery when necessary. It won't, however, put its feet up and doze off. Once recharged, it'll be back on patrol without complaint.
XPRIZE contributor Don Willmott is a New York-based journalist who writes about technology, travel, and the environment for a wide variety of publications and websites.