If you're sitting down at the drawing board to design a robotic security guard, and you don't want people to run the other way screaming 'oh hell no' at first sight, here's a little tip: don't make it look like the evil killer cyborg from a science fiction programme.
The K5 is a robotic security guard being developed by California startup Knightscope (I'm pretty sure that's also the name of the world-ruling megacorp in some dystopian sci-fi movie), to provide an alternative to flesh-and-bones security. The robots aren't armed (thank Christ), but it's about five feet tall, outfitted with an array of sensors to detect humans and phone home, and yes, it exists outside of a lab. In fact, there's a fleet of five patrolling Microsoft's Silicon Valley campus as we speak.
The robots are outfitted with four cameras, one on each side, plus microphones, weather sensors, GPS, and a laser rangefinder to help navigation. If you try and mess with it, the robot will 'beep ominously', before sending a SOS to its control centre.
Realistically, these things aren't going to be replacing security patrols any time soon — I can't imagine it'd be that hard for a determined human to evade a grown-up Roomba, or there's always the option of just pushing it over. But for some mundane tasks — I'm particularly thinking parking attendants — this thing could actually make sense. Just do not, under any circumstances, give it a weapon. And, um, maybe rethink the styling a little? [MIT Technology Review]