Times Square subway station, one of New York City’s busiest hubs, is about to witness a new guardian of security. The New York Police Department (NYPD) is introducing a novel security measure in the form of a robot designed to enhance safety in the area.
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However, don’t expect a RoboCop or a human-like android. Instead, meet the K5, a creation of California-based company Knightscope, which bears more resemblance to a larger-than-life R2-D2. Albert Fox Cahn, the executive director of the privacy rights group Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, humorously likened it to a “trash can on wheels.”
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Weighing a sturdy 420 pounds, the K5 boasts four surveillance cameras capable of recording video (without audio). Notably, it lacks arms or legs, making it quite distinct from Mayor Eric Adams’ attempt at a heart shape. The robot will perform its duties from midnight to 6 AM during its initial two-month trial run at the Times Square station. However, its initial tasks will be limited to mapping the station during the first two weeks and patrolling only the main areas, excluding the platforms.
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The extent of the robot’s live camera footage streaming and whether law enforcement will monitor it remain uncertain. Mayor Adams stated during the robot’s introduction event that it would “record video that can be reviewed in case of an emergency or a crime.” Facial recognition technology is not in use, but concerns linger that it may eventually be incorporated into the machine.
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It’s essential to note that the K5 cannot respond to real-time emergencies or physically apprehend suspects. Its primary function in such situations is to connect individuals to a live person for reporting incidents or inquiries, provided they can press a button on the robot.
New York City has leased the K5 for approximately $9 per hour over the next two months. Mayor Adams appears convinced of the value it brings, despite recently ordering various agencies to reduce spending by 15 percent. “This is below minimum wage,” he remarked. “No bathroom breaks, no meal breaks.” Adams has shown consistent support for utilizing robotic technology in policing, including the acquisition of two Digidog robots earlier this year at a cost of $750,000 each, intended for deployment in hostage and critical scenarios. This marks a significant shift from the NYPD’s 2021 decision to cancel its lease of the Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot, previously known as “Digidog,” due to strong public opposition.