Gird Your Privacy – Security Robots are Coming

Posted: December 2, 2013 in Law, Policing, Technology & Crime
Tags: , , , , , ,

We’ve all seen surveillance cameras in public spaces – hanging under the eaves of local businesses, lashed to public towers, and staring back at us from the ceilings of airports and transit stations. Cameras are ubiquitous tools of our safety-inclined culture and, if one startup has its way, they’re about to go mobile, predictive, and social.

Security sign

In the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting, a company called Knightscope is seeking funding for their version of a security robot, with the odd sounding name, K5 Autonomous Data Machine, that they assert will protect public spaces, like schools, from security threats.

School shootings, although rare, do generate a lot of fear – not to mention a profound sense of helplessness – among students, teachers, parents and others concerned about child safety.

That fear, warranted or not, also generates business opportunities for safety companies, like Knightscope, to develop and sell technologically-based security solutions.

The Knightscope K5 – Autonomous Data Machine

The K5 prototype can carry a wide variety of sensing technology, including optical character readers, standard video capture, thermal imaging, infrared, radar, and acoustical monitoring equipment that allow it to thoroughly scour its environment for security and safety threats.

It also appears from the above promotional video that facial recognition and license plate scanning will be options as well.

According to the Knightscope web site, the robot also uses a type of predictive algorithm and “crowdsourced social data sets” to make decisions about what to do once it detects a threat:

The Knightscope K5 Autonomous Data Machine utilizes a combination of autonomous robots and predictive analytics to provide a commanding but friendly physical presence while gathering important real-time on-site data with numerous sensors. Data collected through these sensors is processed through our predictive analytics engine, combined with existing business, government and crowdsourced social data sets, and subsequently assigned an alert level that determines when the community and the authorities should be notified of a concern. If an alert is pushed, the K5 machine will turn on all of its sensors to allow the entire community to review everything and also contribute important real-time information. Our approach alleviates any privacy concerns, engages the community on a social level to effectively crowdsource security, and provides an important feedback loop to the prediction engine.

Needless to say, privacy advocates are concerned about yet another method for monitoring, recording, and analyzing law-abiding citizens’ public behavior.

Given that we have yet to develop a clear consensus – not to mention a workable legal framework – regarding the balance between privacy and safety, the Knightscope project seems to be jumping the gun a bit, so to speak.

Perhaps if the developers installed a cynicism sensor on the K5, they’d detect the potential for public concern about yet more surveillance of an already overly watched society.

What are your thoughts about the K5? Is it the next step in public safety, or yet another tool of Big Brother?

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