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5 uses for the surveillance robot of tomorrow

John Brandon | Aug. 14, 2014
Robots are essentially a self-contained tribute to the wonders of technology. The most advanced models use fast computer processing, high-definition cameras, artificial intelligence and long-range sensors, all of which give you a pretty good idea where technology is heading. In some ways, a robot even provides a glimmer of the future car and future IT advances.

Robots are essentially a self-contained tribute to the wonders of technology. The most advanced models use fast computer processing, high-definition cameras, artificial intelligence and long-range sensors, all of which give you a pretty good idea where technology is heading. In some ways, a robot even provides a glimmer of the future car and future IT advances.

The components for a robot are all housed on one intelligent machine that connects back to a server over a high-speed network. When deployed, a robot must be engineered to act autonomously. Any flaws in the programming lead to serious repercussions.

Knightscope is a Silicon Valley startup working on the K5 surveillance robot. Intended to help police forces in urban areas, at shopping malls or the parking lot of Google, the robot is one of the best examples of how autonomous helpers can augment the efforts of human security personnel. Stacy Stephens, the co-founder of Knightscope, offers some insight into how it works and how it could be used.

Robots Can Guard a Designated Area

The K5 looks a bit like the Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet fame. Both have a coned head and stand about as tall as a human. (The K5 is 5 feet tall; Robby the Robot stands 7 feet tall.) The imposing look is by design. The K5 is intended to be the most critical part of what Stephens calls the "use of force continuum" — that is, a commanding presence.

To stay within an area, security personnel use mapping software to create a geo-fenced perimeter. The K5 then moves autonomously (up to 3 miles per hour) and detects objects using two Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) sensors, which emit a laser in a 270-degree sweep every 25 milliseconds around the robot. The K5 creates a point cloud, such as a 3-D image of the surroundings showing the objects within the geo-fenced area.

Unlike the GPS in your smartphone, which finds locations within a few meters from you, the K5 uses a differential GPS that finds objects within a few centimeters. That helps the robot know exactly where it's moving at all times. There's also an ultrasonic sensor for detecting objects close to the robot and a "wheel odometry" sensor to track the motion of its wheels.

Robots Can Monitor the Grounds

If a company deploys the K5 robot in a parking lot, one primary function is recording suspicious activity. To help, four HD video cameras can monitor and record in a 360-degree circle around the robot. Crucially, the K5 doesn't just mindlessly record activity. If there's a trigger, such as unusual or sudden movement, the K5 will record a video clip, stamp it with the GPS coordinates and alert the security guards.

 

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