Originally published December 6 2013
'R2-D2' night watchman robot unveiled for patrolling schools, neighborhoods and more
by J. D. Heyes
(NaturalNews) In the age of fast-moving technology and automation comes now another concept that is sure to kill more jobs while raising the level of concern about privacy in the 21st century.
A California company, Knightscope, has developed a small robot that it plans to market as a security device. As reported by The New York Times:
The night watchman of the future is five feet tall, weighs 300 pounds and looks a lot like R2D2 - without the whimsy. And will work for $6.25 an hour.
A company in California has developed a mobile robot, known as the K5 Autonomous Data Machine, as a safety and security tool for corporations, as well as for schools and neighborhoods.
"We founded Knightscope after what happened at Sandy Hook," William Santana Li, a co-founder of the tech company, which is based in Sunnyvale, Calif. "You are never going to have an armed officer in every school."
'R2-D2's evil twin'
Some privacy experts are already shaking their heads in disbelief. Count among them Marc Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy and Information Center, a privacy rights group based in D.C. He doesn't see the K5 as merely a tool to make schools and communities safer.
"This is like R2D2's evil twin," he told the Times.
Others are concerned about the impact that the robot - and similar technology coming down the pipe - will have on jobs. Introducing such machines into the labor market "could force David Autor, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist, to rethink his theory about how technology wrecks the middle class," the Times reported.
Especially for low-wage, low-skilled positions.
At present, the government-imposed minimum wage is $7.25 an hour (it's eight bucks an hour in California). The Knightscope robot comes in significantly lower than those costs, which is raising questions about whether robotics and other artificial intelligence technology are beginning to impact both the top and bottom of the nation's workforce - not a good prospect in a part-time economy with high unemployment.
More from the Times:
The K5 is the work of Mr. Li, a former Ford Motor Company executive, and Stacy Dean Stephens, a former police officer in Texas. They gained some attention in June for their failed attempt to manufacture a high-tech police cruiser at Carbon Motors Corporation in Indiana.
Knightscope plans to trot out the K5 at a news event [soon] - a debut that is certain to touch off a new round of debate, not just about the impact of automation, but also about how a new generation of mobile robots affects privacy.
Naturally, the K5's creators are marketing their invention as a system that can merely upgrade the role of security guard - not as a job killer - even if it means fewer human security guards.
"We want to give the humans the ability to do the strategic work," Li said, adding that humans would be needed to supervise and maintain a fleet of security robots.
1.3 million job losses?
Development of K5 is not yet complete, the Times reported. When it is, it will come complete with a video camera, thermal imaging sensors, radar, a laser range finder, a microphone and air quality sensors.
In addition, the K5 robot will also have some limited autonomy, like the ability to follow a pre-mapped route. "It will not, at least for now, include advanced features like facial recognition, which is still being perfected," the paper said.
Currently, about 1.3 million people work as private security guards in the U.S., and for the most part they are low-paid, averaging only about $23,000 annually, according to figures obtained from the Service Employees International Union. And most are not unionized.
In addition to the job-killing aspect, as Rotenberg notes, many people are concerned about the mass surveillance capability of such robots. Already, American society is flooded with surveillance cameras (and remember, drones are right around the corner).
Li, of course, downplays that.
"We have a different perspective," Mr. Li said. "We don't want to think about 'RoboCop' or 'Terminator,' we prefer to think of a mash-up of 'Batman,' 'Minority Report' and R2D2."
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