Silicon Valley Wagers on Robots to Supplement Human Cops

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R2D2 by Alberto Garcia

Photo by Alberto Garcia via Flickr


William Santana Li, chief executive of the robotics company Knightscope, imagines a future where robots will keep Americans safe, says the Los Angeles Times. Communities will take security into their own hands by investing in wheeled machines that patrol streets, sidewalks and schools — instantly alerting residents via a mobile app of intruders or criminal behavior. His proposition is like many posed by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs seeking to modernize, privatize and monetize services once entrusted to the government — and it’s one that has intrigued venture capitalists who have pumped $14 million into his start-up. Knightscope robots already are edging into the private security industry, patrolling parking lots, a shopping center and corporate campuses in California. The company’s ambitions, though, are much bigger.

Knightscope manufactures two robots — the five-foot tall K5 and the four-foot K3. Both weigh a hefty 300 pounds, making them hard to tip over. Customers can rent them for as little as $7 an hour. The robots — which resemble a cross between R2D2 and a Dalek from “Doctor Who” — can record, stream, send and store video; provide thermal imaging; read license plates; track parked cars; serve as a two-way intercom; play a pre-recorded message; and detect humans in places they’re not supposed to be. The robots have not yet led to any arrests, but they have become an icon for a burgeoning sector of service robotics, a fast-growing industry that seeks to break robots free from the factories where they have been confined for decades. Funding for robotics start-ups hit $587 million last year, more than double the 2014 total.


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