Chalk up one more concept from the world of science fiction that's seeped into reality. At this year's Consumer Electronics Show, an organization called Knightscope shook the foundations of the security industry by revealing the Knightscope K5 Autonomous Data Machine - a real, working, automated security drone.
"We are a security company, and this is Security 3.0" explains William Santana Li, CEO of Knightscope. "This isn't about waking up and deciding to make a robot, this was about waking up and seeing an industry that has dangerous, repetitive, mundane work and has not changed its methodology on the front lines since it started. It's time for a change."
"Security 1.0 was human beings with big, dirty old cars and a CB radio," Li explains. "Security 2.0 was the same thing, but we added laptops. But Security 3.0 is humans, robotics, and intelligence together, having real-time on-site data and historical information and new kinds of tools that were never thought of before for this industry."
These are tools, says Li, which the security industry desperately needs. Security - which is worth $28 billion a year in the United States alone - has one of the highest turnover rates in the country, around 400%. That's worse than the fast food industry; worse than the sector which created the term "Mcjob."
"Can you imagine having a new team every quarter in your company?" asks Li. "We can't continue this way. There's much more intelligent technology for people who are putting themselves in harm's way for minimum wage. There is technology that can help them do their jobs more effectively and safely."
According to Li, his organization has incorporated this technology into K5. Although the robot - which vaguely resembles a distant cousin of R2-D2 - cuts a pretty impressive figure, most of the technology it utilizes isn't anything new or revolutionary. Curiously enough, most of the tech that's converged to create this robot has been around a full decade or more.
That doesn't make the end product any less impressive, of course, as the means to effectively use the tech wasn't around back then. The Knightscope K5 is positively packed with tech to make the job of a security guard that much easier, including behavior analysis, thermal imaging, proximity sensors, audio and video recording; biological, chemical, and radiological detection, HD video ,GPS, and 3D Mapping. And that's just scratching the surface.
"Ten years ago it would be so difficult to do what we're doing," admits Li. "Computing power, miniatures, cost of sensors, 3D printing; all of this has made a difference in terms of what we're able to create and apply to an industry in need."
"We are working on a difficult problem that affects everyone," Li continues. "I am convinced that hardware, software, and community engagement can help cut crime by 50% in geo-fenced areas. Autonomous robots that could predict and prevent crime could potentially have a 1 trillion dollar impact on the economy."
The K5 is currently in beta testing, which will continue through 2014 and early 2015. During that time, Li and his team will be tailoring the technology within the K5 to suit a wide array of different situations. Using the robot in a shopping mall, for example, would be different from an airport or corporate campus. A robot positioned at a seaport, for example, would need to have a heightened sense of smell.
Alright, so we've established that this robot is awesome. It's a real-life security drone, one which can see, hear, feel, and (presumably) think on its own to some degree. But is it really all that practical? Would anyone actually use it?
"Some of the largest malls in the United States are now on our waiting list for the Knightscope K5," Li explains. The company, meanwhile, rests at the center of a financial whirlwind, with businesses, venture capitalists, and angel investors all clamoring for a piece of the pie. This is because, Li believes, his organization is pushing the envelope in an unprecedented fashion.
Li might be making huge waves in the tech and security sectors, and his organization might be well on its way to becoming a multi-million dollar enterprise, but his original motivation was decidedly more humble and, dare I say, human: he saw the Sandy Hook shooting, and decided that something needed to change. As a powerful entrepreneur with over 23 years of business experience under his belt, he realized he had the means to effect that change. Along with former Texas City Police Officer Stacy Dean Stephens, he created the K5.
"There are more than 185,000 schools and more than 19,000 law enforcement agencies in the US. There are not enough people to go around, and the technology isn't there," says Li. "You could take a different approach with this technology, you could use facial recognition of a child getting into the vehicle to match the children to the right car as people go in and out. There are completely new use cases for the technology we now have at our disposal."
Ultimately, Li envisions a world in which a legion of these robots patrol schools, communities, and organizations, keeping a constant vigil against crime of all sorts. Each robot will be connected wirelessly to a central server, which it can use to recognize faces, license plates, and any suspicious anomalies. For the time being, it remains unarmed, though equipping it with something like a tazer wouldn't exactly be a difficult feat.
The K5 - and the technology behind it - still feels like something torn from the realm of science fiction. The idea that one day soon we might see robots patrolling the streets to keep us safe feels positively surreal, and to be frank, I'm still not entirely certain what to make of it myself. Regardless of how myself or anyone else feels, however; the future of the security sector will soon arrive, and it's here to keep us safe.