You may remember William Santana Li from such failed startup ventures as Carbon Motors, which sought to make a purpose-built police cruiser but instead went bankrupt and left Indiana taxpayers and investors millions of dollars in the hole. Now he's back with another law enforcement tool: a robot security guard.
That Dalek-looking thing in the top right is the K5 Autonomous Data Machine, a mobile robot developed by Li's new company Knightscope and described in a breathless New York Times profile that only saw fit to give Carbon Motors' failure a single throwaway line added after the story was published online this weekend.
The idea of the K5 is that it will be cheaper to operate and maintain than paying your average minimum wage security guard. From the story:
Mr. Li envisions a world of K5 security bots patrolling schools and communities, in what would amount to a 21st-century version of a neighborhood watch. The all-seeing mobile robots will eventually be wirelessly connected to a centralized data server, where they will have access to “big data,” making it possible to recognize faces, license plates and other suspicious anomalies.
Oh great, that's totally a world I want to live in.
Li said he expects the robot could be used to patrol schools — the idea was inspired by the Sandy Hook school shooting, he says — as well as Silicon Valley tech company campuses, because if there's anything we can learn from reading Valleywag, it's that people in Silicon Valley are more than happy to buy into bad ideas all the time.
The story in the Times describes the K5 as "still very much a work in progress," but a better way to put it might be "a glorified Roomba." It has a video camera, thermal imaging sensors, a laser range finder, radar, air quality sensors and a microphone, and it can followed a pre-programmed route. At the moment it does not have facial recognition or other advanced features.
It's probably good Li based the new company in Sunnyvale, California. He's probably not welcome in Connersville, Indiana, where the local government gave Carbon Motors $7 million in grants for a production facility that was supposed to bring 1,300 jobs to the troubled city before it quietly closed up shop and declared bankruptcy while owing another $21.7 million to private investors. There, Li and the rest of Carbon Motors are described as "snake oil salesmen" who took an entire state for a ride.