Friday, April 17, 2015

On the threshold of a robotics revolution

R2D2 patrolling the street in modern day California?

Whenever I read the classic sci-fi Oath of Fealty I think of that mirror world where privileged  insiders reside behind their technology fortress and the rest of us are the mob at the gates. Except we forget that in Niven and Pournelle’s novel their technology fortress was modeled on an arcology, a real-life creation of walkable, ecological, and community-based cities where people collaborate to survive.

Such is the paradox of security; exclusion vs inclusion is hardwired into the beast.

K5 - a mobile emergency "blue light" station - all photos by ©Knightscope, Inc. 2015
Ultimately intention is the key. It fits no one except cynics to claim human nature makes every invention retrograde. Aerial flight may allow militaries to bomb, but planes also allow millions to travel world-wide and experience cultures in every global nook. That arguably brings us closer together.


K5 is an autonomous data machine - aka, a security robot. Advertised by Knightscope as an autonomous neighborhood crime watch, the K5 appeals to both corporate and community. Tackling the high turnover in the security profession (by some accounts up to 400%), the K5 provide more reliable eyes-on-the street for everything from asset protection to identifying threats like armed intruders in schools. It then contacts police with real-time, reliable data and does so 24/7 without sleeping on duty.

K5 patrolling the Microsoft facility in California - ©Knightscope, Inc. 2015
The online promo describes automatic license plate recognition (for stolen cars), CO2 and temperature sensors (for fire), facial recognition with cameras, and low-light video sensors for night-time property monitoring. The gizmos on this robot are impressive; LIDAR, GPS, inertial and odometer sensors, geo-fencing for autonomous control, directional microphones, proximity sensors, and the list goes on.

I don’t really know what to make of K5: Big Brother’s Techno-Bride or R2D2’s charming bleeps? I suppose, ultimately, intention is the thing. True, removing humans from eyes-on-the street is scary. No doubt the robo-phobics will sound alarms.

On the other hand, who said people had to be removed just because they have their own K5 in their neighborhood?

Night-time patrol with low-light sensors - ©Knightscope, Inc. 2015
Knightscope warns us about epidemic crime. While rates are increasing in some places, crime science and police statistics say the opposite, all of which is beside the point. Even in a time of record-breaking crime declines security needs remain high. What bank doesn’t have security cameras?

Whatever the case, for some reason when I look at K5 I am not reminded of Schwarzenegger’s cyborg in Terminator. I’m reminded of Huey, Dewey and Louie, those cute robot drones from the 70s enviro-sci-fi flick, Silent Running. And they end up saving us from ourselves.

2 Replies so far - Add your comment

Tod Schneider said...

I too have mixed reactions. On the down side, there's the big-brother creepy element; on the up side, it might have a lot to offer. I'd suggest boosting its people-friendliness -- it ought to be possible to approach it and ask it to call 911, or for directions to any business or address in the area.

Greg Saville said...

Thanks Tod for the comment. I think it already does the 911 thing. The first photo on the blog shows K5s emergency button. The directions idea is interesting. The manufacturers should consider that.