The New York Police Department (NYPD) has announced a new pilot program that will deploy an AI-driven security robot in the Times Square subway station. The robot, called K5, is manufactured by Knightscope and is equipped with cameras, microphones, a license plate reader, and a button that straphangers can use to call for police assistance. The robot will patrol the station for 18 hours a day, starting from 6 a.m., and send live video and other intelligence back to the police department. The robot will also have a human partner from the NYPD to assist it during its shifts.
The pilot program, which will last for two months, is part of Mayor Eric Adams’ vision to use state-of-the-art technology to enhance public safety and security in the city. Adams said that the robot has the potential to serve as an important tool in the NYPD’s toolbox and that it is cost-effective, costing only $9 an hour to operate. He also said that the robot does not have any real-time facial recognition technology and that any video collected by it would adhere to the same guidelines as any other technology in the NYPD’s current toolbox.
A Controversial and Checkered History
The K5 security robot is not the first of its kind to be used by law enforcement agencies in the US. In 2016, the Dallas Police Department used a bomb disposal robot to kill a sniper who had killed five police officers. In 2019, the Los Angeles Police Department tested a similar robot from Knightscope in a homeless encampment, sparking outrage and criticism from civil rights groups and activists. In 2020, the Honolulu Police Department acquired a robot dog from Boston Dynamics to screen homeless people for COVID-19 symptoms, raising privacy and ethical concerns.
The K5 security robot itself has also had some mishaps and incidents in the past. In 2016, it ran over a child’s foot in a California mall, causing minor injuries. In 2017, it fell into a fountain in a DC mall, becoming a viral meme on social media. In 2018, it was vandalized and knocked over by a drunk man in a California parking lot, resulting in minor damage.
A Mixed Reaction from the Public and Experts
The announcement of the K5 security robot in Times Square has elicited a mixed reaction from the public and experts. Some people have expressed curiosity and excitement about the robot, while others have voiced skepticism and fear. Some have compared the robot to R2-D2 from Star Wars, while others have likened it to RoboCop or Terminator.
Some experts have praised the robot as a useful and innovative tool for crime prevention and detection, while others have warned of the potential risks and challenges of deploying such technology in public spaces. Some of the issues raised by critics include the lack of transparency and accountability of the robot’s operations, the possible violation of civil liberties and privacy rights of the public, the potential for bias and discrimination in the robot’s data and algorithms, and the ethical and social implications of replacing human interaction and judgment with artificial intelligence.