Nov 302013
 

K5 Autonomous Data Machine

The night watchman of the future is 5 feet tall, weighs 300 pounds and looks a lot like R2-D2 – 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,” said William Santana Li, a co-founder of that technology company, now based in Sunnyvale, Calif. “You are never going to have an armed officer in every school.”

But what is for some a technology-laden route to safer communities and schools is to others an entry point to a post-Orwellian, post-privacy world.

“This is like R2-D2’s evil twin,” said Marc Rotenberg, the director of the Electronic Privacy and Information Center, a privacy rights group based in Washington.

And the addition of such a machine to 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 minimum wage in the United States is $7.25, and $8 in California. Coming in substantially under those costs, Knightscope’s robot watchman service raises questions about whether artificial intelligence and robotics technologies are beginning to assault both the top and the bottom of the work force as well.

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 K5 at a news event on Thursday — 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.

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