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California company builds 5-foot android robocops to control crime-ridden areas

Published time: February 04, 2014 19:21
Image from knightscope.com

Image from knightscope.com

The local neighborhood watch may be beefing up its robotic arsenal if a new technology startup gets its way anytime soon.

In a bid to make local communities safer and give local law enforcement agencies more tools to fight crime, California-based Knightscope recently unveiled a line of K5 robots that it believes will “predict and prevent crime with an innovative combination of hardware, software and social engagement.”

The new K5 units have a look that resembles R2-D2 from “Star Wars,” but their casual design masks a highly advanced robot that its creators hope will drastically cut down on crime. Weighing in at 300 pounds, the five-foot K5 can patrol a neighborhood and uses a built-in laser to form a 3D map of the surrounding area in 270-degree sweeps. Four built-in cameras, meanwhile, are capable of scanning up to 1,500 license plates a minute.

Image from knightscope.com

“Data collected through these sensors is processed through our predictive analytics engine, combined with existing business, government and crowdsourced social data sets, and subsequently assigned an alert level that determines when the community and the authorities should be notified of a concern,” the company’s website states.

According to Fox News, Knightscope already has multiple clients lined up to test beta versions of the K5 in 2014. Rather than sell the robots outright, the company will charge $1,000 a month for daily eight-hour shifts. Inspired to take action after 20 children were killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, Knightscope CEO William Li is convinced that innovation in law enforcement is necessary to effectively make use of officers’ time and manpower.

"Our aim is to cut the crime rate by 50% in a geo-fenced area, which would increase housing values and safety while lowering insurance costs,” he told USA Today. “If we can do that, I think every mayor will be calling us."

Image from knightscope.com

That prospect doesn’t sound comforting to everyone, however, especially civil liberties advocates wary of warrantless surveillance in light of the domestic spying done by the National Security Agency.

"Clearly, this kind of surveillance technology has an unbounded capacity to collect personal information that a single patrol officer doesn't," Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the watchdog group Electronic Privacy Information Center, said to USA Today.

"These are the same concerns we're facing with CCTV (closed-circuit television) and Google's mapping cars. Laws need to be updated to acknowledge these technologies, and companies, in turn, need to act responsibly.”


One such law is currently being considered in California, where a recently introduced bill would impose restrictions on the use of surveillance drones. The proposal would ban the use of unmanned aerial drones in the state without a court-issued warrant, potentially calming concerns that government agencies could abuse the technology.

As RT reported last week, a study by the Electronic Frontier Foundation found predator drones flew over 700 missions between 2010 and 2012 on behalf of numerous agencies, including local law enforcement. Cattle rancher Rodney Brossart of North Dakota became the first American to be arrested with the help of a drone back in 2011. He was just recently sentenced to three and a half years in prison for terrorizing local police, though his attorney argued the drone was dispatched without a warrant.

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