Security robots expand across the U.S.

Security Robots in US– When Westland Real Estate Group bought Liberty Village, a ten thousand-square-foot apartment building northeast of Las Vegas about two years ago, the police department identified it as one of the city’s most common sources of 911 calls.

“It was all very small,” said Dena Lerner, a Westland spokeswoman. “A lot of gang activity focuses on controlled substances, prostitution, dog rings. We had problems with gun rings, car shootings, robberies, assaults – we talk about everything. ”

So earlier this year, Westland launched a comprehensive crime reduction program and added a “private security robot” developed by Knightscope, a Silicon Valley company to make the area safer. Each robot is given a nickname, and the one that roams Liberty Village is called “Westy.”

This model, the K5, is a powerful smart, robotic robot that stands over five feet [5 m] long. Westy is slowing down at almost human speed, with four indoor cameras receiving an endless 360-degree view. It can also scan and record license plates and various digital identifiers distributed by all mobile phones, known as MAC addresses.

But it is unclear how Westy has reduced crime in Liberty Village. Knightscope, who is desperately trying to find new clients, told local media that Westy has caused a “huge drop in 911 calls,” emphasizing “another success in fighting crime.” Knightscope has included documents about Westy as part of its latest pitch for individual investors and its plans to take the company to the public.

Official Aden Ocampo-Gomez, a spokesman for the Las Vegas Police Department, said that although the building was no longer on the list of the top 10 most common 911 telephone numbers in the northeastern part of Las Vegas Valley, he did not think all credit should go to Westy.

As more government agencies and private companies use robots to help fight crime, the decision is made on how effective it is in reducing crime. Knightscope, experts say is the most prominent player in the market, citing little public evidence that its robots have reduced crime as the company sends them everywhere from the Georgia shopping mall to the development of Arizona to the Nevada casino. Knightscope clients also do not know how much these security robots cost.

“Are we still seeing big changes since we installed the robot in January?” Lerner, said a Westland spokesman. “No. But I believe it is a good tool to keep a great community like this, to keep it safe, to keep it under control. ”

For its part, Knightscope maintains on its website that robots “predict and prevent crime,” without much evidence that they do. Experts say this is a bold claim.

“It can be difficult to present a single object and cause a decrease in crime,” said Ryan Calo, a law professor at the University of Washington, comparing the Knightscope robots to a “leading scarecrow.”

In addition, the company does not provide specific examples, including details of crippling crimes due to robots.

“I can honestly say that we are making a difference,” said Stacy Stephens, founder and vice-president of Knightscope. “You don’t know what would have happened compared to the deployment of security guards there.”

Security Robots Problems

Newtown Roots

The company’s chief executive, William Li, founded Knightscope after trying to come up with a solution to the December 2012 mass shooting at Connecticut School in Connecticut that left 20 young children dead.

“That made me angry,” Li, a former Ford executive, told USA Today in January 2014.

The company came up with a robot “that would predict and prevent crime in your community,” according to a released version of its website.

“There are 7 billion people in the world, and soon we will have a few billion, and the law enforcement will not go up by the same rate; we will not be able to pay you,” Li said.

Since then the Knightscope security robots have become friends with corporate crime against customers in various cities across the country, including Honolulu, Washington, D.C. and a community college in Tucson, Arizona.

Typically, a casino, a residence, a bank, or, in some cases, a police department, hires a security robot for an estimated $ 70,000 to $ 80,000 a year. Part of that cost includes Knightscope keeping all the data robots like Westy collect annually. This huge amount of data is equivalent to the combined total storage of 175 iPhones, each with a maximum storage capacity of 512 gigabytes.

According to a recent annual report by Knightscope, the company has 52 current vehicles for all 23 clients, with 27 more robots left to deliver. Each robot has a life expectancy of “three to four and a half years.”

Money Problem

But the money behind the police security robots business is hard. Last year, Knightscope lost more money than ever before, with a loss of $ 19.3 million, almost double that since 2019. While some clients are buying more robots, the company’s total customer base has dropped to 23, from 30, over the past four years. Also, the number of hired robots has reached 52 from the end of 2018 until the end of last year. The plague did not help matters.

Just two months ago, Knightscope told investors that there was “great uncertainty about our ability to continue” given a company’s “deficit”, or debt, of more than $ 69 million by the end of 2020. Its operating costs have dropped by more than 50 percent, including a small increase in research, and a doubling of the company’s marketing budget. Knightscope itself recently told investors that there are no further efforts to raise funds, “which will not be resolved after the third quarter of 2022.”

Stephens, founder of Knightscope, said the company’s customer retention rate was 85 percent, and that the company had four-year-old customers.

“I can’t comment on future phases of funding. But we have exceeded seven times so far, ”he said. “We’ve been able to advance technology each time, and we’ve been able to raise the money side all the time again.”

LImited Supervision

Knightscope’s best-known ship is in Huntington Park, California, a small town just south of downtown Los Angeles. The Huntington Park Police Department was the first legal agency to work directly with Knightscope. For two years, a single Knightscope robot, called the “HP RoboCop,” has roamed part of the city’s Salt Lake Park. The robot captures live video of the park’s activity, and is able to broadcast live back to the police, although the Huntington Park Police Department rarely uses this feature.

As recently as May 2020, the Huntington Park Police Department presented statistics to the City Council comparing the five-month period, from June to December, 2018 and 2019. The data shows that “criminal or incidental reports” have dropped, from 48 to 26, and arrests have increased, from 11 to 14.

“The K-5 traffic light has a positive impact on crime and disruptive activities in Salt Lake Park, reducing the number of police operations in the park,” both city manager Ricardo Reyes and police chief Cosme Lozano wrote to local authorities last year. In a recent interview, Lozano called the existence of a robot “a good result” and sees “nothing bad” about having it.

But the department is not even using all of its robotic capabilities, according to Lozano.

Police are not able to monitor live video traffic regularly because that could “burn” 100 gigabytes of data shared by the agency per month, similar to a data cap on a monthly mobile phone system. Lozano added that the Huntington Park Police Department also does not use reader plate, hot scans or cell phone scanning features, as they have not been adequately inspected by the police department.

When asked to cite examples of human arrests caused by a robot two years after it was distributed, Lozano said they were not yet numerous.

“I want to say that it has been instrumental in reducing the robots and destroying the robot itself,” he said, noting that this only happened twice in two years.

However, Lozano said he would recommend that the city renew its contract if it comes before the City Council, which is expected in the coming weeks.

Bigger Problems

As Knightscope grew, it was involved in both tragic and humorous episodes.

In 2016, a K5 roaming the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, California, struck a 16-month-old baby, injuring his leg and running with his foot. The company apologized, called it a “strange accident,” and invited the family to visit the company’s headquarters near Mountain View, which the family refused. The following year, another K5 traffic light skidded a flight of stairs near the source of the Washington Harbor building in Washington, D.C., and fell into the water.

In October 2019, a woman from Huntington Park, Cogo Guebara, told NBC News that she had tried to report a fist by pressing an emergency warning button on HP RoboCop itself, but to no avail. He later learned that the emergency button had not yet been connected to the police department itself.

Knightscope once promoted several clients in California, including the NBA’s Sacramento Kings town in Hayward, and the Westfield Valley Fair Mall in Santa Clara, not far from the robot company headquarters. But those clients say they no longer have contracts with Knightscope.

Hayward sent his robot to a city parking garage in 2018. The following year, a man attacked and struck a robot. Despite having clear video and video evidence of the alleged crime, no one was arrested, according to Adam Kostrzak, the city’s chief information officer. -19 at the beginning of 2020, ”said Kostrzakemailed. The city has spent more than $ 137,000 over two years on the robot.

When asked if the city had seen tangible evidence of a reduction in robotic crime, Kostrzak did not provide it.

“It went well in the garage, small technical hiccups and our citizens and staff were delighted with its presence,” he sent an email. “If the robot contract had been renewed, the second step would have been to extend the crime [details] of the robot-covered area to the Police Department, unfortunately the launch of Covid-19 has halted the program.”

The security robots in Huntington Park and Las Vegas are the only examples of the company’s website that allegedly contributed to crime reduction. But that’s because Stephens, VP’s company, said almost all of his company’s clients do not want the details of any crime-related incidents to be made public.

Challenging Tasks

Finally, lawyers and legal experts say that it is difficult for any company to demonstrate that certain types of technology are indeed effective in reducing crime.

Andrew Ferguson, a professor of law at American University, has called these security robots a “most expensive type of security theater,” using a term that refers to procedures that aim to make the environment safer, but it never does.

“This is a visual aid that is designed to make you look and see that you are being watched and that will stop you,” he said. “They drink, they do nothing but record a lot of data.”

The best use of the robot could be what one public college in Arizona has tried. They use the robot as a technical indicator, and as a “safety tool.”

Libby Howell, a spokeswoman for Pima Community College in Tucson, noted that the model does not use face recognition, as it has raised concerns among academics and students, many of whom are dreamers, or immigrants brought to the United States as young children, who may not be deported.

“It’s not trying to solve the problem,” Howell said. “It tries to show students that technology is changing drastically every day, and your focus today can be a plan for tomorrow.”

But Knightscope users remain optimistic that these police robots will make a difference.

Robert Krauss, vice president of public safety at Pechanga Resort Casino, an hour-long drive north of San Diego, said that in the past three years the casino has used one robot to roam the casino floor and five robots to stand next to a person at the casino’s main gates.

He did not know how helpful they were in preventing crime, but said the robots were able to identify the panh managers and other people the casino wanted to evict. On one occasion, a video from a robot even came up with a lawsuit that could have been dropped by providing vivid images of a fallen woman and claiming that the casino was at fault.

“You never know how many [bad characters] you’ve blocked by putting [security robots] out there, so I don’t know what’s stopping us. But let me tell you – we have never had a problem, ”said Krauss, noting that many customers like to take pictures with them.

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