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Meet The Scary Little Security Robot That’s Patrolling Silicon Valley

The K5 never tires on patrols and only costs $6.25 an hour. But at least it’s not armed–for now.

Here’s why several companies are apparently considering hiring the K5 security robot, despite its strange appearance. It patrols your grounds continuously, no need for sitting down or going outside to smoke. It’s a “physically commanding presence,” warding off intruders and no-gooders. And, most importantly, it’s relatively cheap. At $6.25 an hour, it costs about one quarter of what mall-owners might normally pay for a human patrol.

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That, at least, is the pitch from Stacy Stephens, VP of marketing for Knightscope, the California startup behind the machine. He says there are now two dozen K5s in operation in the Silicon Valley area, including on corporate campuses, shopping malls, and data centers. He also, apparently, doesn’t think human workers are very good at their jobs.

“We’re the opposite of the mall cop,” he says. “They sit around for 45 minutes to an hour, then they get up and walk around five minutes. The robot is going to patrol for 45 minutes to an hour, then it’s going to seek out its charge-pad for five minutes.”

Looking like a sleeker, taller version of R2-D2 or a Dalek, depending on which sci-fi reference point you’re coming from, the K5 comes with a series of sensors and cameras and is designed for perimeter patrolling. It acts as a mobile camera for its operators as well as a detection device in its own right. Its “audio event detection” system senses for things like cars honking, glass breaking, and people screaming. It can scan license plates, separating out cars that are allowed somewhere and those that aren’t.

“They’re meant for a support role, observing and reporting only,” Stephens assures us. “There’s no offensive measure to them at all.”

For now anyway.

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Future versions will come with object recognition and will learn to read patterns of events. So, for example, it will know that a parking lot is supposed to be busy at 2 p.m., but not 2 a.m. The K5 will even be able to sense for biological threats like pathogens in the air.

We’re not sure whether to be excited or alarmed. But it seems certain that mall owners and the like will be interested. If they can pay $6.25 an hour (including service and maintenance) instead of $25 an hour, why wouldn’t they be?

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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