The robots might one day rise up and take over, but a Palo Alto startup called Knightscope has developed a fleet of crime-fighting robots it hopes to keep us safe.
Knightscope’s K5 security bots resemble a mix between R2D2 and a Dalek from Doctor Who – and the system behind these bots is a bit Orwellian. The K5’s have broadcasting and sophisticated monitoring capabilities to keep public spaces in check as they rove through open areas, halls and corridors for suspicious activity.
The units upload what they see to a backend security network using 360-degree high-definition and low-light infrared cameras and a built-in microphone can be used to communicate with passersby. An audio event detection system can also pick up on activities like breaking glass and send an alert to the system as well. The robots are being used at a number of tech companies and a mall in Silicon Valley at the moment.
CEO Stacey Dean Stephens, a former law enforcement agent, came up with the idea to build a predictive network to prevent crime using robots. He and his co-founder William Li have raised close to $12 million in funding so far from Konica Minolta and others to build on the idea.
While Knightscope doesn’t think its robots will replace mall cops or security guards in the near future, the company does see them as assistants to human security teams. The startup currently rents each five-foot, 300-pound K5 unit out for $6.25 per hour (or less than minimum wage). However, teenagers or others tempted to kick or push the robots over may be shocked to find the robots can talk back to them, capture their behavior on film and alert authorities behind the scenes as well.
There’s more to these droids than becoming our future security forces, of course. Stephens invited me to Knightscope HQ for a behind the scenes look at an integrated security network the company is working on. This network is able to monitor and report suspicious activity in real time in public places based on robot observation and could possibly be used to predict and act quickly in tense and violent situations (possibly even mass shootings), according to Stephens.