A security robot on patrol in a shopping mall.

Shoppers at the Prudential Center in Boston, the Westfield Valley Fair in San Jose, Calif., and a mixed-use space in Sacramento now have the added protection of a highly technical security robot.

Through a partnership between Allied Universal and Knightscope, the Knightscope K5 is being used to patrol these retail setups. While selfie-seeking passersby can stop the K5 merely by stepping in front of it, the robot is also capturing the moment. The K5 is quipped with four cameras for 360-degree video, thermal imaging and people detection among other features. To date, footage from the robot helped lead to the arrests of robbers and a sexual predator, and to stop a fraudulent insurance claim, according to Knightscope cofounder and vice president of marketing Stacy Dean Stephens.

Fully loaded with delivery, setup and the cell service required to transmit data and charging pads, it costs about $8,000 each month, according to Allied Universal’s senior vice president Dennis Crowley. The K5 can also send out preprogrammed messages regarding retailers’ special events or live messages alerting people to an emergency situation and areas to avoid. K5 also has call buttons connecting users to Allied’s command center similar to the ones that are used by college campuses to help keep people safe in parking areas and other public places. The cameras then allow security to see who they are speaking with, what the situation is and review the recorded video for additional information, Crowley said. In one instance in a California shopping mall, where a kiosk offered hair curling, “the robot picked up a high heat signal before combustion had occurred where a human wouldn’t have found it until smoke or something had started,” he said.

Knightscope expects to have 100 robots up-and-running by the end of the year, but Stephens declined to estimate what percentage of that figure shopping malls will account for, although she noted there are hundreds if thousands of shopping centers nationwide.

Moving between 1 to 3 miles per hour, the pace is meant to be comparable to that of a security officer observing his surroundings as he walks. “The nice thing is it’s recording the video all along,” Crowley said.

In one instance when three people held up a high-end store in a luxury shopping center in California, the robot captured video of the thieves leaving the store. “It also records Mac addresses so if you have a smartphone or any device that picks up a Wi-Fi signal, it sends out a Mac address. All we know is who the manufacturer of the phone is and the carrier. We don’t know who you are or anything else from there. But it’s information that we could then turn over to the police. We can also blacklist — if you pick up this Mac address again send an alert back to the emergency command center. We could also then sound an alarm and pick up some video and turn that over to the police as well,” Crowley said. “There are a lot of additional features beyond human capabilities. It still needs a human on the backend to operate and work with it. It really becomes a nice added assistant to the security officer and makes the one more effective.”

The K5 uses lidar, the same sensor technology used by Google’s self-driving vehicles. To build a patrol route, the K5 is “joysticked” through the property to map out walls and other obstacles. It takes a week or so to validate a map, and work out any hiccups, before it can run autonomously. The robot can later be programmed to follow different routes or patrols depending on the time of day. “We’ve found in some places that it gets so crowded we decide to just park it in a fixed location where it can monitor during the crowded times so it’s not getting in people’s way. And at other hours, it’s patrolling the entire property. If there is an emergency, we can create wait points and tell it to go there, and respond from there,” Crowley said.

The current high-definition cameras can shoot between 30 to 35 meters away. The next generation of security robots will use 4K cameras that will have digital zoom capabilities. Used outdoors, the K5 has license plate recognition features which again can be used for blacklisting capabilities in the event there is concern about a vehicle coming on the property, Crowley said. In addition to security purposes, it can be used to monitor parking meters and parking availability. Facial recognition is also said to be in development.

“The technology is not quite there yet. Obviously, you need to access other databases,” Crowley said. “There’s talk of developing weapons protection ability, being able to determine if someone has a concealed weapon, or putting in sensors for gun powder protection or things like that. We’re still a ways away from that. I would say several years. But Moore’s law as everything develops, it keeps moving faster.”

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