- Associated Press - Saturday, March 11, 2017

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) - It glides softly along the floor, its black, 4-foot-4-inch-tall bullet-shaped body sporting a University of Texas at Arlington logo and an array of blue and red lights as it hums like a quiet oscillating fan.

The Dallas Morning News (https://bit.ly/2mRddP4 ) reports it’s known as the K3 - a mobile robotic police unit - and though images of the 1987 sci-fi classic “RoboCop” spring to mind, don’t call it Murphy.

“It has a decided lack of offensive firepower,” laughed Stacy Stephens, one of the founders of Knightscope Inc., which developed the technology. So, you won’t find one equipped with guns or Tasers.

The K3 and taller K5 models, which made their Texas debuts as they were demonstrated Thursday at UTA’s College Park Center, just might be the “future of public safety,” as a sign on the center court scoreboard read, if their California-based developers are successful in placing them around the country.

“Corporate campuses, shopping centers, arenas, logistics centers, airports, seaports - places like that - those are our focus,” said Stephens, a former Coppell police officer who studied aerospace engineering at UTA from 1990 to 1993 before leaving school.

As Stephens showed off the gleaming black K3 on Thursday, it occasionally came to life and shuffled around like a curious puppy.

“It’s trying to get away from me now,” Stephens said.

The K3 is designed for interior patrols, while the taller model, the white K5, can patrol outdoors. A four-wheel model, the K7, should be ready by the end of the year, Stephens said.

Knightscope developers say the 300-pound machines are equipped with a variety of sensors that measure thermal imaging and air quality, along with a laser range finder, video recorder and two-way audio devices.

Both models, made from a composite material “similar to a Corvette” 6 to 8 millimeters thick, have the same functions, but the outdoor K5 comes with license plate recognition software. That makes it ideal for patrolling parking lots, Stephens said.

Stephens said the mobile units are already in use by Microsoft, Juniper Networks and the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, among others. He says interest is high among several Texas companies, but none has committed yet.

Neither has UTA, which is evaluating Knightscope’s technology.

“We think it’s definitely something worth looking into,” said Capt. Mike McCord, the UTA Police Department’s public communications officer. “It obviously has high value as a force-multiplier, so we’re evaluating it to see if it fits into our overall campus security mission.”

And lest police officers start to think they’re obsolete, Stephens cautions that the mobile units are designed to augment, not replace, humans.

“This is about observing and reporting more than anything else,” he said. “Humans are always going to make the law-enforcement decisions.”

The units can transmit data at a moment’s notice to nearby officers’ smartphones if audio sensors pick up an unusual amount of noise or disruptive activity. But Stephens has his sights set on larger goals.

“Long-term, the ultimate goal is to predict and prevent crime,” he said, bringing to mind another film, Steven Spielberg’s “Minority Report.”

“Facial recognition is a ways away,” Stephens said. “What we have now works well with fitted cameras, but with mobile cameras, now everything is moving and images are constantly changing.”

The devices aren’t bulletproof, but multiple alarms will go off, sending alerts to nearby security teams and “hopefully scaring off anyone” who is attacking the machines. In addition, Knightscope is constantly refreshing the units’ software and bringing in hackers to try to compromise them, Stephens said.

Knightscope’s devices work on a leased subscription basis for about $7 an hour, or $5,000 a month. Asked how much the units cost, Stephens would only say: “A lot.”

Even the comforting sound it emits as it patrols an area is part of its functionality, Stephens said.

“We want that sound to be there to let people know that it’s in the area. It’s the same thing with the lights,” he said. “It’s meant to be comfortable around cars, kids, people, animals.”

That’s a somewhat different tack than “RoboCop’s” Murphy.

“We want this to be engaging technology,” Stephens said. “We don’t want it to scare anybody.”

___

Information from: The Dallas Morning News, https://www.dallasnews.com

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