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Last week in the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, California, a robot security guard knocked over a 17-month-old kid and ran over his right foot. The robot, which weighs in at 300 pounds and stands five feet tall, is one of two security robots in the mall’s employ. Yes, that’s right, the robots are on the payroll.
The security bots are rented from robotics company Knightscope, for $6.50 per hour. That’s less than minimum wage and around a quarter of what a human security patrol might cost. The robots are passive observers, like a mobile camera that wanders the mall, with added audio detection that can hear car horns honking, people screaming, or glass breaking.
“They’re meant for a support role, observing and reporting only,” Knightscope marketing VP Stacy Stephens told Co.Exist last year. “There’s no offensive measure to them at all.”
That changed on July 7 when little Harwin Chen toddled into the robot and was knocked to the ground. The merciless machine didn’t stop and kept moving towards Harwin, who now lay face down on the ground, according to Palo Alto Online. The robot ran over the boy’s right foot, and his mother managed to move his other foot out of the way. Harwin’s father then grabbed his screaming son, pulling him out of possible further danger.
In a public statement, Knightscope blamed the kid:
A K5 Autonomous Data Machine (Machine Identification Number 13) was patrolling at a local shopping center when, at approximately 2:39pm PDT, a child left the vicinity of his guardians and began running towards the machine. The machine veered to the left to avoid the child, but the child ran backwards directly into the front quarter of the machine, at which point the machine stopped and the child fell on the ground.
The robot itself denies that the collision even happened:
The machine’s sensors registered no vibration alert and the machine motors did not fault as they would when encountering an obstacle. Once the guardians retrieved the child and the path was clear, the machine resumed patrolling. The entire incident lasted a few seconds and a scrape on the child’s leg and a bruise with minor swelling were reported.
Knightscope says that its robots have patrolled over 25,000 miles, in over 35,000 hours, and that this is the first reported incident. Still, the company says that it is “publicly extending a formal apology for the freakish accident,” despite “reach[ing] out to the family on numerous occasions without reply.”
As robots become more common in public spaces, these kinds of incidents will surely increase. One way to deal with this is to teach robots to be more polite, and to respect our space. Then again, perhaps we’ll be so relieved that we’re not being harassed by a 300-pound, five-foot tall human security guard that we’ll overlook the odd mishap.
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