This article was published by The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Monday, September 5, 2016:  

Cover of "Nineteen Eighty-Four"

In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Big Brother’s primary enabler was the telescreen. It could be turned down but never turned off, and it recorded all behaviors and conversations to be analyzed for traitorous intent.

Knightscope has no discoverable link to the telescreen with its big, fat white Penguin called K5, but its capabilities are astonishing. Those capabilities came to light following an incident at an upscale mall in Palo Alto last month when a K5 ran over a 16-month-old toddler by mistake. Company officials expressed “horror” at the incident, apologized, and then invited the family of the toddler to view its upgraded version of K5, which, it promised, would avoid such incidents in the future.

The rollout of K5 (version 2.0, if you will) was no doubt impressive, as K5 has an amazing array of technology designed as “an advanced anomaly detection device” – read: detect, record, analyze, and then inform its handler of suspicious activities taking place nearby. Stacy Dean Stephens, Knightscope’s vice president of told Digital Trends:

It patrols within a geofenced area using its sensors to alert security professionals of potential threats.


Each machine [which looks like a fat white penguin weighing 300 pounds] has 360-degree high definition video [recording capabilities] for both day and low light [environments]; thermal imaging [to track humans and other objects like animals throwing off body heat]; two-way radio with [a] public address [system], intercom, and broadcast; license plate recognition; and people detection – to name a few [of its attributes].

Those other attributes include nearly 30 different sensors that can not only see but hear, smell, and touch its environment. It has built-in facial recognition capability depending upon outside sources for the data that it can then store internally. Its sensors are so sensitive that it can recognize the sound of glass breaking or gunshots. It can smell a fire or detect an explosion taking place in its geographical area. If an unruly teenager (or other disagreeable humanoid) tries to kick it, write graffiti on it, or push it over, the robot will record video and audio of the incident and send an alert to its “master,” a public safety official in the back office.

So, the next time you visit a mall and see one of these innocuous, cute penguins, watch your language. It is recording what you are saying and checking for offensive, inflammatory, or potentially violence-inciting words. Watch your behavior: no sudden moves, or else the penguin will match them to those that it’s programmed to determine as potentially dangerous. Watch who you are with: it might be a neighbor or a relative with an unpaid traffic ticket. The penguin might conclude that you are cohabiting with criminals.

Of course the company has nothing but honest intentions. The company calls its robots “force-multipliers, data gatherers, and smart eyes and ears on the ground, helping protect [its users’] customers … property and … employees 24/7 – both indoors and out. This technology changes everything.”

Despite disclaimers that the company doesn’t want to displace mall guards or other human security personnel but only to enhance their capabilities, it’s clear where the technology is headed. From the company’s website, it notes that its robots provide “security professionals with a significant force-multiplying effect, and, at the same time, integrate extremely ‘smart eyes and ears’ to a security deployment in order to cover much more ground [than traditional human guards] efficiently.”

The company claims that the mere presence of the droids will reduce crime and related insurance costs. Said William Li, the company’s CEO, “Our aim is to cut the crime rate by 50% in a geofenced area, which would increase housing values and safety while lowering insurance costs.”

It’s also less costly to rent a penguin than to hire a security person. The company recommends leasing them in pairs – one to take a break to get recharged while the other one remains on duty. But at $6.25 an hour each, they are well below the government-mandated minimum wage, and they don’t get pregnant, need a vacation, or sue for poor working conditions or gruff and insensitive bosses. And, if need be, they can be on duty 24/7.

Paranoids are having a field day dissecting the invasion of the robots. Some are concerned about safeguards (!) over privacy, to wit: the limitations on “unreasonable” searches and seizures. Some think some people won’t visit the mall at all, preferring to shop online or go elsewhere without the penguins. Others, like Jeramie Scott, a national security fellow at the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), said “Automated surveillance, facial recognition, and license plate recognition in public makes us all suspects. The K5 could become a cuter, less aggressive terminator (à la Terminator 2: Judgment Day) that kills privacy instead of people.”

So the next time you’re at the mall, keep an eye on that big fat white penguin because he most certainly has his eye on you.


George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four

Background on Knightscope robots

Knightscope website

Forbes: Knightscope Security Robots Spotted On Uber Parking Lot And Mall Patrol Meet Knightscope’s Crime-Fighting Robots

CNN: 300-pound mall robot runs over toddler

CNN: Robot’s role in killing Dallas shooter is a first Look out mall cops — this 300 pound security robot might be your replacement  Knightscope upgrades tot-injuring robot

Website of Universal Protection Systems

UPS’ announcement about using Knightscope robots

Details on the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, CA

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