On Duty With the 21st-Century Neighborhood Watch Robot

Knightscope autonomous security robot

In the future, security details at work, school and in public areas will include mobile robots that can head off danger.

Security failures can lead to serious safety threats that put people in harms way. To improve safety measures, many are considering how new technologies can help.

Among the most promising are security robots. From checking cars coming to a school curb to scanning for explosives, sophisticated robots could help humans keep the peace at work, school and large events.

“Rather than send a bunch of police officers out to check alarms that are going off, there’s no reason why you can’t have a robot patrolling an area,” said Stacy Stephens, vice president of marketing and sales for Knightscope, a Silicon Valley-based robotics startup he also helped create.

To that end, the Knightscope team is developing an autonomous security robot called K5. The bot, whose name comes from its five-foot height, moves around on its own in random patterns using remote laser sensing, differential GPS and ultrasonic sensors for obstacle detection. K5 moves between three to five miles per hour and has an electric self-charging system.

Weighing about 300 pounds, K5 records audio and 365-degree video that goes directly to a security center. For patrols, the robot has thermal and infrared imaging, an intercom system, and an emergency call button. Sensors can detect radiation, chemicals and airborne pathogens. Whenever it detects something suspicious, the robot sends out an alert and human security guards step in.

Stephens welcomes comparisons to Star Wars’ R2D2 rather than the intimidating Robocop cyborg.

“We’re not deploying any kind of offensive technology,” he said. “This is observe and report only.”

Kinightscope autonomous security robot

Stephens said the robotic platform, currently in beta, would first be deployed in Silicon Valley. He envisions the robots going to schools and corporate campuses, where security measures are expected. The robot could check license plate numbers against security lists.

At a school, when classes let out, the robots could help teachers pair young students with guardians. On a corporate campus they could scan for restraining order violations.

“You’re going to have people with personal problems who ultimately find their way to work,” Stephens said.

He knows, having spent most of his career as a police officer in Dallas-Fort Worth. If a person with a legal restraining order against them shows up, the robot would alert the security operations center.

A different kind of security robot will be greeting the public this summer at the FIFA World Cup. The Brazilian government announced a $9.2 million deal with iRobot for 30 PackBots 510s as part of the country’s goal to make the World Cup “one of the most protected sports events in history,” CNET reported.

The PackBot, which vaguely resembles Number 5 from the classic movie “Short Circuit,” has a compact tank-like base and a pivoting arm that can grip. T

he 510s tend to be used for operations in unsafe areas. When two PackBots were sent into the Fukushima nuclear power plant after the 2011 tsunami, they proved invaluable in assessing structural damage, according to the Japan Times.

Back in California, the Knightscope team wants K5 robots to cut crime in half wherever they’re used. They plan to begin selling the platform later this year.

“We’ve had a lot of interest,” Stephens said.

“Right now we’ve got about 30 different customers on a waiting list saying hurry up and get to a point where we can put these out.”


Images courtesy of Knightscope Inc.
A professional writer and editor, Alyssa Danigelis focuses on the intersection of technology with sustainability, business, media, arts and design. Her interest in technology has led her to cover self-healing power grids, 3D-printed food, wearable computers and robotic couture. Originally from Vermont, she’s a graduate of Mount Holyoke College and Columbia University’s School of Journalism. She lived in New York City for several years before falling in love with sunny Boulder, Colorado, where she currently resides. Her writing has appeared in publications that include MIT’s Technology Review, Natural Health, Fast Company, Inc. Magazine and Discovery News. Find her on Twitter at @adanigelis. She’s excited about sharing her passion for cool tech with iQ by Intel’s readers.

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