As regular readers of the Comms blog will know we are always on the lookout for a cool tech story. We have found one!

Now which young boy, or girl for that matter, did not adopt a tin badge and pretend to be the sheriff of a town overrun by bandits! Surely not just me?

Well, the days of Woody patrolling our towns could be over. Knightscope, an American company, lease out robots as security officers for shopping centres. Sadly at present, these are not some bad-ass Terminator looking robots, rather they resemble a tin egg. However, they have proved very successful.

The idea came to co-founder Stacy Dean Stephens a former Dallas police enforcement officer in the aftermath of the shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut. It was revealed that if the attending police had arrived to the terrible scene just a minute earlier some 12 more lives could have been saved.

“That was a problem we felt was definitely worth solving.”  The answer lay in intelligence. “And the only way to gain accurate intelligence is through eyes and ears,” he said. “So, we started looking at different ways to deploy eyes and ears into situations like that.”

Knightscope’s sheriffs are completely autonomous, navigating like self-driving cars. They have high-definition infra-red cameras; microphones that allow the robot to either interact with people or listen for sounds such as breaking glass, and even detection systems that can intercept the pings of mobile phone devices, and license-plate-reading software that can process 300 license plates every minute.

Okay maybe we were a little hasty to write them off as tin eggs, perhaps Doctor Who’s nemesis the infamous Dalek would be a better description.  Stephens picks up on the reference, “We could have gone two ways: friendly, or ominous. But you don’t want to scare everyone and make them not like the tech; you want it to be comforting. Like a police officer, you want to walk a fine line between having a commanding presence and not scaring a grandma, or little Janie.”

Worry ye not if the fear of being hit by a Taser, Knightscope’s robots rather they emit a loud alarm and geo-tagging so that it can call for help if attacked.  The software can set up a “whitelist, greylist, and blacklist” of license plates: the whitelist permitted at any time, the greylist only at certain times, and the appearance of a license plate that’s on the blacklist – a disgruntled ex-employee, or someone against whom a current employee has a restraining order against, for example – immediately triggers an alarm.

All the information is streamed to Knightscope’s cloud software and then streamed back either to the customer’s control centre or in some cases to a mobile app held by a human security guard.

The units cost $7 an hour to rent, which is considerably lower than the going rate for security guards, though Stephens said they were meant as more of an aid to, rather than a replacement for, human security.

No surprise that the robots are very attractive for the selfie.  “Everyone likes to take robot selfies,” Stephens said. “People really like to interact with the robot.” He said there have even been two instances where the company found lipstick marks on the robot where people had kissed the graffiti-resistant dome.”

As yet we are not aware of Knightscope moving into the UK market but it gets our vote. Bring on Robocop!!