Robocops patrolling airports near you...
The US security company Knightscope have launched a device called the K5. It bears a striking resemblance to R2-D2 from Star Wars; the idea is that very soon these "Robocops" will support and even replace police and security personnel on the beat. They're fitted with a range of sensors and are updated continuously with crime and intelligence data from their locality so they can even predict when and where crimes might be about to happen so they can focus their patrols on those areas. Co-creator Stacy Stephens spoke to Chris Smith about the K5...
Stacey - Basically, what we have is a fully autonomous robot with a payload of sensors on-board. Those sensors are always looking for any type of abnormal behaviour. When it detects an abnormal behaviour, it will send an alert to a security operation centre so that somebody can look at the information and determine whether or not they need to deploy assets to that area.
Chris - Wow! This really is Robocop.
Stacey - To a degree, it's definitely more observe and report than it is something that's offensive. This is for looking. It's not for acting.
Chris - Can you just describe it for us?
Stacey - It's called the K-5 because it is actually about 5 feet tall. It's about 3 feet wide. It's a little pill-shaped. It looks like a very large R2D2.
Chris - I just wondered if the K-5 is going to be a play on Dr Who's dog which is used to be called K-9 of course.
Stacey - Definitely, not. There's no exterminating here. One of the obstacles that we needed to overcome was social acceptance and you have to have something that is designed in a way that people like to engage. You cannot predict and prevent crime without the help of the average person. And so, we wanted this to be something that was extremely friendly and very approachable. So, that's why it's incredibly a beautiful machine in of itself.
Chris - Can we just talk briefly about how it actually physically works?
Stacey - So, the K-5 is an electric platform. It uses lithium-ion batteries to charge it. It does self-monitoring of its own health. So, as the battery level drops, it will opportunistically charge itself on a charge pad. While it is charging, it has the ability to continue monitoring the surroundings. On-board each machine is a sensor payload that includes video, audio recording, hyper local weather, radiation, chemical, biological, airborne pathogen sensors. And all of those sensors are constantly looking for anything abnormal. So, you have a baseline of activity. Once something goes outside of that baseline of activity, it flags it as an anomaly and then it starts looking at other data. So, we can pull in data from local governments to see what's the historical data, what are the crime stats in that area, and all of that data is then run through a predictive analytics engine and it determines whether there is an alert that is worthy of showing to somebody. And then once the software determines that there is an alert, then it will send that to the security operation centre for a human to actually look at through a web browser interface and then they can determine whether or not they need to deploy a human to take a strategic action.
Chris - Talk us through actually how you see this being used then. Where will you deploy it and how will it help with our present security situation?
Stacey - A really great example would be kind of looking at airports. You look at the way the security is done at airports, you have a lot of internal security and minimal external security. So, you could put this along the perimeter of an airport with a number of sensors that are on-board, you can look at video feeds, listen to audio, you have license plate recognition on it, you have the potential for putting radiation, chemical and biological sensors, airborne pathogens. And then as they patrol around the airport perimeter, they can be gathering intelligence and really start to get a better look at how secure the property is and keep it that way.
Chris - Couldn't someone who really is hell-bent on being nefarious just run up behind it and shove a beanbag over the top of it?
Stacey - Anything that can possibly happen will happen. So whether it's somebody trying to tip it over or trying to kidnap it or as you said, put a bag over its head, it's going to happen. However, as things are happening, it's learning its environment. It knows what's normal behaviour and what's not normal behaviour and as somebody is approaching, if they're doing that type of furtive gesture, it will be caught and it will be sent back to the security operation centre because if any of the sensors are rendered inoperable, it will send an immediate alert to somebody to look and say, "Okay, what's going on?" Secondly, we don't just deploy these in single unit applications. We deploy multiple units so they can watch after each other. So, just because you've covered one doesn't mean there's not another one locally that can see what's going on as well.
Chris - What about sort of community-based policing? Could these be deployed on to the streets of towns or housing areas to keep an eye on people's cars or their houses at night?
Stacey - I think that long term applications are very widespread. I think we have numerous different applications in which we can deploy the robots. Early on, our target was really to try to do things that were more easily accessible. So corporate campuses, data centres, anywhere where you'd see private security like open air malls and things like that, parking lots, parking garages. But yes, absolutely.
Chris - What about the cost of these things, both in terms of actually making one and putting it in place, and then also operating it?
Stacey - We designed K-5 with exactly that in mind. So, we actually sell them as a subscription, all inclusive. It includes the robot, the maintenance, and the user interface, so it's incredibly affordable.
Chris - Yes, indeed. That must be sort of cheaper in fact than paying a person to walk along the same route.
Stacey - It's not meant to replace humans, but it is meant to augment the way they do business. So, we want to make sure that they have the data that they have necessary to make the strategic decisions and give them more information, and better intelligence.
Chris - So, when can I buy one and how much is it going to cost me?
Stacey - You'll be able to subscribe to the service starting in 2015 and it will cost you $6.25 an hour. Right now, we're limiting deployments to 24/7 operations, so that comes to about $4,500 per month for 24/7 coverage.