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October 18, 2019

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Crime-fighting robots aim to take monotony out of security process

Knightscope Security Robots

Steve Marcus

People pass by a Knightscope security robot as it travels along the Linq Promenade Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017.

Knightscope Security Robots

A Knightscope security robot travels past security officers  at the Linq Promenade Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017. Launch slideshow »

It’s not quite Robocop, the gun-toting cyborg, but a Silicon Valley startup is banking on its “crime-fighting robots” as the wave of the future in crime deterrence.

Knightscope’s machines combine computer hardware, software and human factors to provide a strong but friendly security presence, company officials said.

Knightscope was at the Linq this week to demonstrate the robots. About 50 of the company’s robots are in use in 10 states, mainly by private security companies. Knightscope picked up its first order from a law-enforcement agency earlier this year when the Hillsborough County (Tampa, Fla.) Sheriff’s Office began using the robots.

The robots are not intended to eliminate the work of actual security guards, merely to enhance operations.

Guards carry out many routine tasks in a typical security environment, said Stacy Dean Stephens, vice president of marketing and sales for Knightscope. Boredom can lead to inattentiveness and turnover, Stephens said.

“You take those boring and monotonous jobs and allow a robot to do those. You let the humans do the strategic thinking and hands-on type of work,” Stephens said. “The whole purpose of the machine is to eliminate the constant monitoring.”

The robots search for anomalies — people in areas in which they shouldn’t be, alerts on automobile license plates and thermal events such as fires.

“Once they get an anomaly, it reports back to the security operations center and they get an alert,” Stephens said. “It’s exception-based reporting — things that are out of the ordinary.”

The robots mimic the senses of humans, Stephens said.

“We use a combination of lasers, sonar, wheel encoders, inertial measurement and GPS,” he said. “All of this combined gives the robot an incredible accuracy of their surroundings, the orientation in which it sits in those surroundings and the obstacles within that area.”

The robots feature 360-degree video streaming, forensic capabilities and optional concealed weapon detection and radiation-detection capabilities.

The K1 model, set to debut next year, offers the weapon-detection capabilities, which is like airport-security scanner technology.

“It’s millimeter wave detection that runs around a person, but we're doing it in a cone,” he said. “It's a very finite area and focused on looking for weapons.”

The K1 model, which is not mobile, could be placed in a doorway or or any point of entry into a facility.

Since the shooter responsible for the Oct. 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas brought a stockpile of weapons to his room before the attack, Stephens said this robot could help prevent similar tragedies from happening.

“There is a possibility that we could have used the technology as the guy enters the hotel … I think it could have had an impact, not what he did on the 32nd floor, but it’s that entry point,” he said. The robot could help in “creating the information, to give the people the opportunity to investigate something they may not have otherwise investigated.”

If a robot is impeded or pushed over, an alert would go out to the security center to respond to the area immediately. “Anything malicious, there are varying alarms that are going to sound on the machine,” Stephens said. “Plus, we got them on video.”

Interested companies pay a monthly fee, basically leasing the unit, while Knightscope still owns the robot.

“A typical security guard makes about $20-25 an hour depending on the area you’re in,” Stephens said. “Our robots are like a service model … where the machine is the service. It’s somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 an hour. But again, this is not a replacement of security guards.”

Although most people think of an uber-aggressive robot ready to take down a gun-wielding crook, like on TV shows or on movies, Stephens said this is more practical and safe solution to typical security problems.

“This is not Hollywood,” he said. “The technology is on the leading edge of what’s out there. Like any other technology program … it’s a learning process for us all on a daily basis.”