Security robot patrols California mall

Stanford Shopping Center has a new security guard making the rounds, one that can work all day long, literally has eyes in the back of its head and can remain on the lookout out for bad guys while entertaining kids at the same time. Sounds almost like superhero, right? Actually, it’s a robot, but one that has more in common with R2D2 than RoboCop. Named the K5 and built by Mountain View startup Knightscope, the robot is designed to detect suspicious behavior and alert people to it — not capture criminals.

The K5 started patrolling Stanford Shopping Center last year, Stephens said. The mall is one of a handful of places in the area where the robots are keeping guard, including Qualcomm in San Diego and Northland Controls in Fremont. But you might soon see it in many more places. Knightscope has been ramping up operations and, after initially limiting sales to Silicon Valley and San Diego, it began recently to offer the robots statewide.

Despite its friendly appearance, the K5 was inspired by tragedy. After the mass shooting incident at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, a case study by the International Chiefs of Police found that as many as a dozen of the 26 lives lost there could have been saved if police had been on the scene just one minute earlier.

Stephens, who was a police officer before he became an entrepreneur, saw that report and wanted to find a solution. He and his partners eventually came up with the idea of building a self-driving robot that could serve as the police’s “eyes and ears” and alert them to suspicious activity before bigger problems arose.
Stephens and his partners figured a robot could have advantages over more widely used security camera systems. Setup costs could be lower, for example. And by being a noticeable, physical presence, the robot could deter crime in ways that cameras can’t.

“It’s like putting a marked police car on the side of the road,” Stephens said. If criminals see it, “they’ll go somewhere else.” Robots augment existing security systems, said Gerald Van Hoy, a senior research analyst at Gartner, a technology industry consulting firm. “So they’re the roving eye you normally don’t get.”