Uber drivers who pay a visit to the company's inspection lot near Mission Bay in San Francisco will be met with a rather strange sight: a five-foot-tall, white, egg-shaped robot wheeling around the lot, on the look-out for trouble.
The robot is a K5, a 300-pound security robot made by Silicon Valley start-up Knightscope. It's a stand-in for a human security guard. Stacy Stephens, Knightscope's VP of marketing, says Uber is a recent customer of the company. The bot was spotted by friend of Fusion, Alan Sanchez, who stopped to take a photo of the bot and found that when he did, the robot stopped moving around to focus its stare on him:
The robot has multiple high-definition cameras for 360-degree vision, a thermal camera, a laser rangefinder, a weather sensor, a license-plate recognition camera, four microphones, and person recognition capabilities. Once set up in a geofenced area, "it roams around looking for anomalies," said Stephens.
If someone suspicious comes into the lot, or starts messing with a car, the robot can't tase them or break out any weapons. (It may look like a Dalek but it's less lethal.) Instead the robot can set off an alarm, send a signal to human security personnel, and record everything that person does to be used against them later by police.
Knightscope customers don't buy the machines. They rent them, usually two at a time, so one can charge its battery while the other patrols. The cost is $7 an hour.
"For the cost of a single-shift security guard, you get a machine that will patrol for 24 hours a day 7 days a week," said Stephens, citing wages of $25 to $35 hour for a human security guard. Stephens said two large security companies have already signed deals with Knightscope. The robots are coming for our jobs. Sorry humans!
The financial appeal is obvious. And if the robot gets beat up by a bunch of kids, which kids seem to enjoy doing, you don't have to pay it workman's comp. (They may not be the last Uber jobs to go to the bots.)
When asked why it hired the robot or whether it's detected any trouble, Uber did not respond to requests for comment. Stephens said the lot on Vermont Street is the only one for which Uber has hired robots.
Knightscope, which launched in beta in 2014, has so far only deployed its robots in California locations. Stephens says you'll find them at corporate campuses, logistics centers, shopping centers, and data centers. On Instagram, lots of people who have spotted them at Stanford Shopping Center have tagged their posts #securityrobot.
"If someone comes into the area and creates a disturbance, you've got evidence, photos of people, their license plates, a lot of forensic evidence you wouldn't have had previously," said Stephens.
When I said it sounded like a security camera that moves around, Stephens seemed offended.
"That oversimplifies it because there are so many sensors," he said. And he said criminals would be deterred by "the gut-wrenching feeling of an intimidating physical presence."
Stephens would not give me any stats around how many arrests have resulted because of the robot patrols, but he did offer up an anecdote about a security success story for an unnamed client.
"The robots were patrolling at 2 a.m. Some clown came onto the property and was engaging our machine in a way that suggested he was going to attempt damage," said Stephens. "He was kicking and punching at the machine. It set off all the alarms and sent an alert to the security guard's mobile device. When that happened, this guy turned white and took off like a little girl. We turned the evidence over to police, who said it made him a suspect in some vehicle break-ins that occurred around the same time in the direction he ran."
If nothing else Knightscope certainly has some very amusing footage of would-be criminals.