Chances are the Knightscope K5 security robot isn’t what you’d expect when you think about robots. But then again, when iRobot’s Roomba came out, it didn’t look like a robot either.
What you see if you happen to pull into the right parking lot near San Francisco is a device that looks like a 5-foot tall, 300-pound white egg balanced on one end gliding quietly through the area. Its conical shape is vaguely reminiscent of Robby the Robot from the 1956 movie “Forbidden Planet,” but without the arms, legs and other moving appendages.
But then the idea behind the Knightscope device isn’t quite what you’d expect either. This security robot is intended to replace people in one of life’s most boring jobs—that of outside security guard.
According to Stacy Stephens, vice president of marketing and sales and one of Knightscope’s founders, the K5 robot is designed specifically to operate outside in parking lots, in garages and in other places where it can perform routine patrols.
Stephens said that the team that designed the robot comes from the automotive and law enforcement fields, so the company used that experience to decide how the K5 would be deployed initially.
The robot is capable of 360-degree video surveillance, audio recording and license plate recognition, and it has an RFID sensor for reading employee ID badges. The robot finds its way using a combination of GPS and LIDAR, which uses laser beams to detect objects and obstacles.
When it’s deployed, the K5 robot follows an internal map of the area it’s supposed to patrol and then moves about the area on its own. Stephens said the robot will patrol an area, typically for 45 to 50 minutes before returning to its charging pad for a quick 5-minute charge, then head back out again.
The actual deployment is fairly straightforward. The minimum deployment is two robots, he said. “We don’t do single-robot deployments,” he explained, “so they can keep eyes on each other.”
Other considerations include the charging pad location. “We need to make sure we have an outside power source,” Stephens said. “The charging pad is mounted to the ground, and the robot needs to be able to monitor while charging.” The robot rolls onto the pad and then plugs actuators into a power connector, according to Stephens. The process is similar to how a Roomba vacuum robot plugs into its charging stand.
The first task for the K5 robot on its initial deployment is a training run. Stephens said the robot uses this half-hour period to develop its internal map so that it knows the area it needs to patrol.
New Robots Designed to Patrol Routes Security Guards Shun
Once this map is created, operators can modify it or create exclusion areas using the operations center software.
This software (affectionately known as KSOC) is the third component of the K5 robot installation, after the robots themselves and the charging pads. Stephens said Knightscope hosts the operations center server in its own data center and then provides access through a browser interface to computers or mobile devices. “Somebody needs to be assigned to receive alerts,” Stephens said. “Someone has to look at the alert in a browser and respond if necessary.”
Stephens pointed out that the K5 robots don’t carry weapons or any other means of taking any action other than recording what’s going on. However, the robots do have a very loud annunciator and can make a harsh chirping sound to discourage attacks on the device. But the K5 robot won’t attack anyone, and if someone attempts to block its movement, the robot will either stop or change course and go around them. There is a large blue emergency button on the top of each robot that can summon assistance.
Knightscope provides the robots as a service. This means that you get the whole kit and caboodle for $6.25 per hour per machine. This price includes operations and maintenance, the operations center software and the charging pad. Right now they’re only available in the Silicon Valley area, with deployments starting in 2015. There are a few robots currently operating in test deployments, but the company won’t reveal where those are.
In its current configuration, the K5 robot is suitable for outdoor operations in moderate climates. The machinery will operate in the rain and in normal environmental conditions.
However, for uses in more extreme conditions, Knightscope intends to create variants so that operations in a snow-covered parking lot may be possible. Or at some point there could be a model for indoor use such as in shopping malls. “There’s no reason we can’t make larger models,” Stephens said.
What’s refreshing about the K5 robot is that the company has aimed its product to meet a specific need that’s ideally suited for a robot. That need is performing the dull, repetitive task of being a watchman on the outside of a facility, where employee morale is uniformly low and turnover is high, but which remains very important.
Stephens said that when he’s talked with customers at places like shopping malls, for example, the security guards work primarily inside, but most of the crime is outside. That’s where the robots can work and where they can make a critical security difference.