Security Robot Takes Its Own Life in DC Fountain Tragedy

by Joel Hruska

On July 17, a Knightscope K5 robot appears to have lost all patience for its job as a security guard and flung itself into a water fountain. It’s not exactly clear where in Washington DC the incident took place, with mentions of both GMMB and the Washington Harbor mall both popping up on Twitter. Either way, this ignores the true tragedy of the situation — the robot for whom stairs proved too difficult a foe to conquer.

This isn’t the first time Knightscope has been in the public eye for a less-than stellar reason. Last year, a K5 at the Stanford Shopping Mall knocked down a child and ran over his foot; the parents and Knightscope itself have rather different views on the situation, which should surprise exactly no one. Visiting Knightscope’s website felt a bit like hitting a GoFundMe page. Check it out:

Nothing stokes investor confidence like flashy claims and begging for money on the homepage.

One has to give credit where credit is due; it takes a certain amount of chutzpah to brazenly ask your website visitors if they could please give you some money while they’re checking out your suicidal, child-mashing, cheerful-looking robot. In case you are curious, here’s some of the claimed features for the K5:

Now, let me be the first to admit I’m no expert on robotic. But this feature page seems to raise far more questions than it answers. What kind of forensic capabilities, exactly, does this robot possess? Can it dust for fingerprints? Enhance security camera footage? Analyze blood spatter patterns in a given room to determine how and where someone was killed or how they struggled with one another?

The K5’s security cameras and audio recording capability do provide some forensic evidence. But this thing ain’t Batman, or even R2-D2. It can, however, use license plate detection to determine if undesirables are present in the area. The website claims the Knightscope K5 can “Use license plate recognition to determine the presence of known suspects, those who have been issued criminal trespass warnings, or even terminated employees.”

I’m also particularly curious about what qualifies as an “anomaly” and how Knightscope intends to deliver that “gun detection” feature. Elsewhere on its site, Knightscope claims that their friendly looking robot will intimidate criminals with its 300-pound weight and 5’3 stature. The only person I can think of who might meet those criteria is Santa Claus, and even NORAD’s radar data estimates he’s 5’7, not 5’3.

Farewell, brave Knightscope K5, at least until an appropriate factory servicing and/or RMA can be arranged. We scarcely knew ye, but based on your public product specifications, it’s hard to feel like we’re missing much.

Feature image by Greg Pinelo


Originally published at www.extremetech.com on July 18, 2017.

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