‘Patrol-bots’ Eyed as Surveillance Answer

robot-cop2A California start-up is turning out capsule-shaped robots that it says could serve as the eyes and ears of base police units.

Knightscope officials envision its K5 system playing a role in community policing, though it’s not hard to imagine a military application – especially at a time when the Pentagon is eyeing reductions in manpower.

“Knightscope’s autonomous technology platform is a fusion of robotics, predictive analytics and collaborative social engagement utilized to predict and prevent crime,” the company states on its website. That means that in addition to sophisticated intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, the K5 is equipped with analytics enabling it to detect threats to people or property and summon police.

According to a recent report in USA today, the Sunnyvale-based company made its first K5 public in December. The prototype, it said, was able to scan an area in 270-degree sweeps to photographically map it. Four mid-mounted cameras can scan up to 1,500 license plates per minute, according to the report.

Some have likened the 5-foot high, 300-lb, dome-topped K5 to the mascot-like R2D2 android of Star Wars, but with a little up-armoring the “patrol-bot” would more resemble your much less warm and fuzzy Dalek of Doctor Who fame. The Predator started out as a purely ISR platform, as well. But it doesn’t look like K5 will be hitting the battlefield too soon.

“We have been contacted by the military in a couple of different arenas,” Stacy Dean Stephens, vice president for marketing and sales at Knightscope, told DefenseTech.org, “but what we’re doing is geared much more to the business, corporate campus-type of market.”

He said the company is aware of the “Big Brother” concerns that the public has with surveillance systems.

“So for numerous reasons we elected to stay clear of the military as a primary target because we don’t want the public to think this is a big defense thing and to be scared of it,” Stephens said.

It has lined up some “beta” customers among businesses and communities, it says on its website, and will test the K5s this year. In the meantime, it says it is continuing to add customers to its “growing reservations list” for future trials.

In addition to operating systems required for autonomous and semi-autonomous operations, machine-to-machine communications, payload sensors, remote ops, real-time data review and mission planning capabilities, the K5 is equipped with optical character recognition, omnidirectional imaging, thermal imaging, microphones, air quality sensors, ultrasonic and infrared sensors, radar for determining the range, altitude, direction or speed of objects and lidar technology for measuring distance to an object.

The lidar tech also provides the K5 with accurate 3D mapping of the environment and specific objects, the company says on its site.

Company founder William Santana Li, a former executive with Ford Motor Company who also sat on the U.S. National Security Task Force, told USA Today that: “Giving police tools to be safer is a good thing; just think of K9 units.”

“Is roaming a mall parking lot at 3 a.m. really the best use of an officer’s time? We don’t think so.”

About the Author

Bryant Jordan
Bryant Jordan is a reporter for Military.com. He can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BryantJordan.
  • disgusted

    Um. More hairbrained ideas designed to control our “free” nation. Did the designers see any of the Terminator movies or perhaps Robocop?

    • ‘harebrained’…

    • Tony

      ED 209: You have 10 seconds to comply! Eat led sucker!

  • blight_

    Daleks!

    EXTERMINATE EXTERMINATE EXTERMINATE

    • Justin

      My first thought exactly!

  • blight_

    If King George were here today…

    “Come on guys, I’m doing this security stuff to protect the homeland! You’re either British, or pro-French, pro-Savage!”

  • hibeam

    Cameras work. They chased drug dealers off street corners in San Fran. And then the ACLU made them come down. The cameras came down. The dealers came back. Thanks ACLU.

  • Valenburg

    If i wanted a camera on me at all times, I’d move to England.

  • Stan

    Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!

  • Dylan

    The folks behind this startup are the same ones that tried to launch Carbon Motors, stripped state and federal funding, defaulted on payment to numerous suppliers, and then disappeared into the night after cleaning out every last speck of equipment from their facility in Indiana in the middle of the night.

    I am very surprised that this isn’t mentioned anywhere in the article, as this ‘patrol-bot’ is even more pie-in-the-sky than Carbon Motors and just screams of an investment scam.

    • Peter

      You know, I find the whole idea of this so scary that I really hope you’re right!

    • blight_

      “Car for the cop”

      “Robot for the cop”

      And it goes on, and on, and on, and on…!

    • William Kid

      Thanks for pointing that out! Looks like they scammed public and private investors in Indiana out of somewhere around $30 million.

  • Mark

    “Dalek of Doctor Who fame” – EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE! …

  • Peter

    OK, interesting article.

    When do they arm them?

  • Hunter76

    The future is not Knightscope. The future is 1000 companies like Knightscope.

  • orly?

    Looks like a Protectron.

  • Big-B

    i imagine these humptydumpties patrolling the streets while kids painting them with grafitti

  • tankjas

    Are they bullet-proof?

  • WOPR

    I think it might work. People will be laughing so hard at the sight of these things it’ll give the cops time to arrive on scene. Take advantage of the initial “WTF?” reaction to these things.

    Criminal #1 “So how did they get ya?”

    Criminal #2 “I got made by a giant rolling sex toy.”

  • William Kid

    “So for numerous reasons we elected to stay clear of the military as a primary target…”
    Maybe because they can spot a huckster with a checkered past selling pure junk from a mile a way?

  • William Kid

    Found some video from the knightscope team… This “robot”, with the plastic shell removed appears to be a modified Segway, in fact in one screen shot it CLEARLY says “Segway” Here is the link to youtube: