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Meet K5, your friendly neighborhood robo-cop (pictures)

Can a 300-pound R2-D2 lookalike make schools, malls, and workplaces safer? Robot maker Knightscope sure thinks so.

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K5 Autonomous Data Machine

Officially the K5 Autonomous Data Machine, Knightscope's new security robot was designed, according to CEO William Santana Li, with the Sandy Hook Promise in mind -- with its own spin that robotic surveillance can help public spaces like schools, malls, and business campuses regain a sense of safety. After a year-long beta program that starts in January, Knightscope hopes to roll out its finished product by 2015.

"Our plan is to be able to cut crime by 50 percent in an area. When we do that, every mayor across this planet is going to be giving us a call," Li said.

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Military-grade guts

The K5 will not only be able to maneuver autonomously, but it will do so with what Knightscope calls crime prediction algorithms that will let the K5 know the best downtimes to charge and to upload and download data, as well as how to alert human beings when a situation may be on the brink of becoming dangerous.

On top of that, the bot will be equipped with license plate and facial recognition, thermal imaging sensors, LIDAR 3D mapping, and eventually, said co-founder Stacey Stephens, the ability to sniff out chemical and biological weapons, as well as airborne pathogens.

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School safety

Knightscope has yet to partner officially with any schools, but its 2014 beta program will put the K5 in a number of different environments. For instance, Knightscope has partnered with FIFA to bring its bot to the World Cup next summer in Brazil, and the K5 also will be deployed next year in a "particularly large Silicon Valley city," Li said.

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Machine vs. manpower

To push adoption, Knightscope won't be selling its K5 directly. Instead, it will be leasing out its robots on an hourly basis, at price of $1,000 per 40-hour week per month, or only $6.25 an hour.

That pricing model -- more cost-effective than a typically non-unionized security guard -- situates Knightscope directly in the middle of the ongoing and hotly contested debate over automation, and whether the impact of replacing human workers with robots will be ultimately positive or negative.

"Let the human do the strategic work, and the machines do the monotonous and sometimes dangerous work," Li said on the topic of automation.

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All-terrain robot

The current prototype of the K5, which will be going out to partners in a beta program in 2014, will be equipped with 360-degree video capture capability, LIDAR 3D mapping to enable autonomous movement, and license plate recognition, which will allow the K5 to check passing vehicles against a police "hot list" of stolen ones to detect potential criminal activity.

Later models will gain more advanced sensing capabilities, such as thermal sensing and facial recognition, as well as the ability to maneuver new terrains.

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All-seeing eye

With its advanced daytime and nighttime video capture and, down the line, facial recognition, the K5 is a prime target for privacy advocates concerned that advanced technology will end up violating our basic human rights.

To that end, Li wants to convince the public that the tradeoff is worthwhile if his company can be transparent enough -- and the K5 effective enough -- to gain communities' trust. "What put's people on edge is not necessarily privacy. What puts people on edge is being shot at," Li said. "I think we have an opportunity to have those instances stop, or at least significantly decline them by having these types of machines in the community."

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