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Robot Security Guards Are Patrolling Silicon Valley, Collecting Data

Surveillance is being outsourced to the machines.

Welcome to Silicon Valley, home to the progenitors of our dystopian future, where you may now witness robot security guards patrolling the campuses of your favorite tech company. The 5-foot-tall autonomous machines are the product of Knightscope, a company whose founders suffered some failures in 2012. They’re rebounding with K5, a security robot that is equipped with a camera and sensors, and roves around gathering and analyzing data about activity happening within the area. The small robots, which look like 21-century Daleks, are intended for use on college campuses, in corporate buildings, and in malls.

“The vast majority of people see it and go, ‘Oh my God, that’s so cute.’ We’ve had people go up and hug it, and embrace it for whatever reason,” said Knightscope co-founder Stacy Stephens to CBS San Francisco. “Cute” is not a word I’d normally associate with a symbol of the surveillance state, but at least our new robot overlords are adorable to look at. Knightscope is keen to head off comparisons to Whovian villains, instead insisting the aesthetic inspiration comes from R2D2. In a demonstration video unsettlingly titled “Data Is Never Big Enough,” they call K5 an “autonomous data machine”—a phrase that might send chills down your spine or put a twinkle in your eye, depending on which side of the impending class war you fall on.

Knightscope says the robot is designed to “avoid confrontation”—if it encounters what it perceives as a credible threat, it will emit a series of alarm sounds that get progressively louder as the threat persists, and alert the control center. If it detects a robbery, it will collect information about its surroundings. “The robot is looking at the video, listening for glass breakage, any loud sound that breaking in would cause,” Stephens told CBS San Francisco. “We’ll get the license plate, picture of the vehicle, geotag location, and time.”

The robots are already patrolling an undisclosed location in Silicon Valley.

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