NYC Just Fired Its Robotic Police Officer
K5 is a little robot from California who just finished a big-time internship in New York City. And he certainly didn’t have an easy time of it.
At five-foot-two and 420 pound, K5 is less Robocop and more R2D2. His family is Knightscope incorporated out of Mountain View California. After the Sandy Hook tragedy, Knightscope began to produce weatherproof sentry and surveillance robots. K5 has four wide-angle video cameras and an infrared camera. He also sports a helpful button to call emergency services.
K5 has been out and about since 2015, learning how to patrol and move around humans. During an outing to a mall in 2016, he accidentally bumped into a human toddler and knocked them over. But with K5’s top speed of 3 mph, no one got hurt. And after eight more years of practice moving around humans, K5 landed his first job. Well, more of an internship actually.
New York City’s Mayor, Eric Adams, asked K5 to come help with patrols on a “trial” basis. He started K5 right off in the Times Square subway stop, which is one of the busiest on the planet. He said K5’s main job would be to make the rounds on the mezzanine level from midnight to six AM, focusing on the security camera blindspots, and recording video that authorities could review in case of a crime or other emergency. K5 doesn’t record any audio, use any facial recognition technology, or stream any video in real time.
K5 didn’t make any friends in New York City. And he made a few enemies. Albert Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, called him a “trash can on wheels.” Which is a bit mean for a professional disagreement if you ask me.
Even the mayor, who was supposedly K5’s buddy, bragged to everyone that he was only paying the little robot nine dollars an hour. For some reason he specified, “This is below minimum wage,” and added that he gave the robot, “No bathroom breaks. No meal breaks.”
With publicity like that, I doubt other members of the police force were very happy K5 was there.
K5’s beat was a tough gig. K5 can only patrol for 2.5-3 hours before needing to spend 20-30 minutes on a charger, so he broke his nightly patrols into “shifts.” At the beginning of his trial period, he wasn’t allowed to patrol unless he had NYPD officers walking along behind him. And its unclear how often these officers even let K5 do his job.
They certainly didn’t make a habit of letting the little robot out during the day. A construction worker who often saw K5 at the Times Square station said the police “never let it do anything…They could at least walk it down the hallway.”
The police did set K5’s charger up inside an empty storefront in the subway station. But witnesses say there were soon piles of cardboard boxes piled up around the little robot. After months living below ground with no one bothering to clean him, he was covered in dust.
Whatever K5’s shifts actually looked like, his underpaid internship “lease” got extended and extended. What began as a two month gig in September continued through December, March, and into February–with no promotion. Then in early February, the mayor cut the little robot loose without so much as a thanks.
So K5 joins the droves of Gen Zers who tried to break into a good job in NYC, just to be dismissed after an internship. But at least now he gets to go home to sunny California.
Next, meet the NYC robots that are ticketing loud cars, or see K5’s dad take him on the news in the video below: