The New Security Robot Watching Over Silicon Valley Is Less RoboCop and More R2-D2

This bot will not insist you have 20 seconds to comply.

The jobs of security guards—and possibly police, down the road—might be in jeopardy thanks to a new robot that hit the pavement this week in Silicon Valley.

Designed by the Mountain View startup Knightscope, the five-feet, 300-pound K5 robot features what the company describes as an autonomous technology platform that combines robotics, predictive analytics, and collaborative social engagement to predict and prevent crime.

Four cameras stretching the circumference of the bot and multiple sensors surveil the environment for suspicious activity. A wi-fi system transmits live video and tracks other K5s nearby. A separate camera rapidly scans license plates to match against databases and can even analyze faces. The K5s aren’t weaponized, but they do have a screeching alarm that can escalate in intensity, depending on the situation. And if it's something a human should handle, they can call a security guard or the police.

"I believe robots are the perfect tools to handle the monotonous and sometimes dangerous work in order to free up humans to more judiciously address activities requiring higher-level thinking, hands-on encounters, or tactical planning," said William Santana Li, Knightscope's chairman and CEO.

To be sure, the robot in its current iteration is meant more as a crime deterrent than anything else (Knightscope executives regularly note that people think it's "cute" and want to hug it). And while it seems they'll first be used in the private sector, the company appears hopeful that it might be adopted by public law enforcement, as well.

Knightscope says K5s are already in operation at some Silicon Valley locations, but would not say where. They claim to have a waiting list of about four dozen companies wanting to get their hands on the K5 and they expect to deploy several next year in corporate settings, college campuses, and outdoor malls.