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Robotic security guards could accelerate alerts

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Knightscope's security robots for rent can move autonomously and collect a wide range of data. (Picture: Knightscope)
Knightscope's security robots for rent can move autonomously and collect a wide range of data. (Picture: Knightscope)

Robotic security guards have been patrolling the Stanford Shopping Centre in Palo Alto, California, and a number of other locations across Silicon Valley.

The Knightscope robots, which can be leased from the company for $7 per hour, can navigate autonomously using technology similar to that of self-driving cars, and are equipped with a wide array of sensors including HD infra-red cameras, microphones that can listen for warning sounds such as breaking glass, and software that can read up to 300 car licence plates per minute.

The robots live-stream this data via the cloud to a control desk or mobile device. Knightscope markets the robots as "autonomous data machines".

While the robot does not have the human interaction and physical response capabilities to replace human security guards, some of its data collection practices fulfil services humans would struggle with. Its licence plate-reading abilities, for instance, allow it to send instant alerts if a car belonging to banned individual or somebody against whom an employee has a restraining order, appears on the property.

The Guardian quotes Knightscope developer Stacy Dean Stephens, a former police officer and a board member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, as saying the robot was designed in an effort to accelerate security alerts after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. Stephens said he found out in a board meeting after the event that the police may have saved at least 12 more lives if they had arrived at the scene a mere 60 seconds earlier.

In addition to offering advanced data collection and data-driven rapid alerts which human security guards cannot, the robot may be more resistant to social engineering efforts than the humans it assists.

At the ITWeb Security Summit in Midrand last week, social engineer Jenny Radcliffe posited that advanced digital security systems can be circumvented by abusing the natural trust instincts of the human beings guarding them. A robot filling a human's role could make this abuse more difficult.

Assist, or exterminate?

Yet despite the dour circumstances and serious intents for which the robot was developed, it is also designed to generate positive responses from those who come into contact with it. The Knightscope robot is dome-shaped and travels in a rolling motion, invoking images of the friendly R2D2 robot from the Star Wars film series, or the comical Daleks from TV show Dr Who.

Those who encounter Knightscope robots are known to take selfies with them. While they can sound an alarm and send off a geotag if attacked, they cannot fight back.

But AnBot - a robot unveiled in China in April that looks similar and performs many of the same functions - can be commanded to deliver electric shocks to those surrounding it.

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