Microsoft is known for practical chutzpah. The company refrains from gung-ho experimenting just for the sake of making it to the headlines and doesn’t share the enthusiasm over Google X projects that seem to have been within the confines of the lab for simply too long.
But now, Microsoft has all at once gone intrepid and rather foolhardy with a tactical stride in blatantly welcoming the robotic cadre with open arms. This month, Microsoft recruited a couple of K5 droids for the task of patrolling its office premises.
The K5 is a Security Guard Robot model made by California-based Knightscope and no, it does not look anything like RoboCop. Yet these crime-fighters can have you wondering if you got teleported to a sci-fi movie set. They weigh approximately 136 kgs or 300 pounds, measure 5 feet in height and flaunts an array of sensors, microphones, cameras and intelligent alert systems that vary between mild and blaring, GPS and WiFi – all that can easily replace its human counterparts. Critics are already at it, calling the experiment something that seems to disdain the safety of mankind and civilization.
Knightscope Co-founder Stacy Stephens says that people think its cute and love to give it hugs. These robots are unarmed but can be intimidating to a potential trespasser. In fact, the primary defense strategy is to discourage entry. Looters commonly choose the target that has less need for confrontation.
And K5 ‘knows’ what event is normal and what is unusual and needs its attention. Most importantly, K5 units are unsupervised to the extent that they can act autonomously. They won’t exactly chase an intruder all the way across the street but will work more prudently, making note of the vehicle’s license plate, geo location and time of occurence, suppose they sense sounds that indicate breaking in. The images and footages the K5 captures will then be sent to a nearby control panel manned by human guards.
Interestingly, the robots are equipped with the same mechanism used in the ambitious Google Car prototype. The LIDAR (Light Image Detection and Ranging) that is instrumental in creating 3D map blueprint which the K5 uses to form a virtual perimeter around itself within which it will confine its operations. The robot also exudes a loud siren that keeps increasing in intensity until Police force arrives.
The idea is to develop an artificial patrol force to cope with mounting labor costs in the law enforcement department. Which brings us to the energy efficiency cost aspect of deploying and maintaining a single K5. One time battery charge lasts for 24 hours of surveillance activity and once that is sucked-up, the robot automatically retreats to its charging dock where it can get its juice box refilled in just 15-20 minutes. This means easier handling, better performance and lesser employee issues for the department.
but it also raises a lot of concern as to what kind of dangers we are exposing the human race to with this program. Enough has been debated on the dangers of the integration of artificial intelligence into public life and governance. Though the world is currently in a transcendental phase from digital to ‘smart’ systems and technologies, it is the obligation of tech giants like Microsoft to exercise adequate caution in implementing or even pilot-studying such bot troops in a field as susceptible to missteps as law and order.
Several Sci-fi movies like RoboCop, Bicentennial Man and iRobot showed us a glimpse what could go wrong with these cyborg droids begin functioning alongside human beings and it is not too distant a future when these k5s and their successor versions will be handed weapons like electroshock darts and tear gas sprays to incapacitate an invader and that would need some serious bug busting before one could fantasize letting them take battle stations.