Boston MA May 21 2017 There’s a new security officer in town. But this one runs on batteries, not Dunkin’ Donuts.
Next time you’re visiting the Prudential Center, don’t be alarmed if you bump into a large, rolling robot as it travels the corridors where shoppers pop in and out of stores.
No, it’s not an oversized Roomba on the loose. It’s the “Knightscope K5,” an egg-shaped autonomous machine equipped with real-time monitoring and detection technology that allows it to keep tabs on what’s happening nearby.
The Knightscope K5 — it doesn’t have a human name yet, but people have been referring to it as “he” and “she” — was introduced to the Prudential Center on Tuesday by security firm Allied Universal, in partnership with Boston Properties, the company that owns and manages the popular shopping destination.
The robot, which moves at roughly two miles-per-hour, follows a mapped-out “patrol route” within a geo-fenced area, and collects data along the way.
Allied Universal officials say the robot adds an extra layer of protection for patrons on top of the human security guards already on-duty.
“The most encouraging thing about it is that it really can enhance our service delivery and our security program wherever it’s installed,” said Caress Kennedy, president of the Northeast region for Allied Universal. “It has so many wonderful capabilities and just improves the overall service.”
According to Knightscope’s website, the robot is loaded with high-definition cameras that give it a 360-degree view; it can detect humans nearby; and it can make live or pre-recorded audio announcements to the public.
The robot is also equipped with an emergency call button, so if a shopper needs assistance, or is in distress, they can reach a security guard easily.
Dennis Crowley, senior vice president with Allied’s integrated technology group, said a similar robot in California recently used its on-board thermal imaging technology to identify a hair curler that someone had left on at a boutique kiosk after closing for the night.
After detecting the heat, the robot alerted security guards on duty at the nearby command center, he said.
“So they were able to prevent a fire,” Crowley said.
As for privacy concerns, Crowley said the robot isn’t much different from your typical security camera in a busy shopping plaza. The Knightscope K5 stationed at the Prudential Center is not recording audio or listening in on people’s conversations — it’s just video.
“On the privacy end of it, it’s even more open,” he said, because its presence is known and not hidden.
Another advantage of having a robot at the ready is that it doesn’t require much sleep. When the robot needs some extra juice, it will guide itself to an area in the mall to recharge, according to Allied, all the while continuing some of its duties.
“It’s always on the job,” Kennedy said. “The only thing it eats is basically energy. That’s its food.”
Kennedy said the robot has been well-received at the mall, and is becoming something of a tourist attraction for those walking through the shopping center.
She said all week people have been stepping in the robot’s path to take a selfie with the machine.
“When we launched it on Tuesday, it seemed like there were hundreds of people who took pictures with it,” she said. “I think in the past, in other locations, people have wanted to kiss it.”
But the robot needs to work, folks. And its one job is this: protect and serve.
Bryan J. Koop, executive vice president of Boston Properties, said with so many customers, conventioneers, tourists, and residents passing through, the Prudential Center is the perfect venue to test out new security tools.
“Our security team is charged with making all customers feel welcome and safe,” he said in a statement. “And having the additional support provided by our [Autonomous Data Machine] partner is valuable in providing an additional data and touch point.”