Rise of Robocop: the autonomous robot that predicts and prevents crime

Autonomous crime fighting robots could soon be roaming the streets, with the launch of the Knightscope K5 autonomous data machine.

Resembling a mix of WALL-E’s EVE and R2-D2, Knightscope can “see, feel, hear and smell” to collect data and indentify security threats.

In a move that is decidedly reminiscent of Minority Report, the data collected is analysed to predict potential crimes and an alert is pushed to notify the authorities.

The security system also makes use of crowdsourcing to fight crime. In the event of an alert, the local community is involved to contribute real-time information through social media, which will not only assist with crime prevention but the company hopes will also alleviate security concerns.

Knightscope K5 Autonomous Robot

The robot has an impressive range of data acquisition techniques to identify potential security risks. Both daytime and nightime video can be recorded in full 360°, and Knightscope is equipped with gesture recognition and optical character recognition.

It also has infrared capabilities and real-time 3D mapping, all of which combine to produce a mammoth amount of raw data – 90TB, equivalent to 5,000 Blu-Ray movies – each day.

This information is used to plot a real-time ‘heat map’ of crime hotspots in the area, and provide a direct and targeted response to crime.

Knightscope K5 Autonomous Robot predicts and prevents crime

Although the robot is still in development, the company has already attracted interest from several organisations, and has acquired at least one Silicon Valley-based customer to beta test the machine with over the next few months.

It also won’t be long before the robot starts to appear elsewhere. Knightscope vice president of marketing and sales Stacy Dean Stephens confirmed that the company already has “nearly 30 large enterprise customers on a growing wait list and anticipate[s] large-scale deployments in 2015”.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, investors have been falling over themselves to grab a slice of Knightscope pie.

“Knightscope is also oversubscribed for its $1m seed round and will be pursuing a Series A financing later in the year,” explained Stephens.

The company is targeting $1bn+ eventual value, which may seem like a staggering figure but is almost modest when you realise that many security companies are worth tens of billions.

Weighing in at 136kg (300 pounds) and rising to 1.5m (60 inches) in height, Knightscope will be a very visible presence in communities. The company hopes it will be a friendly sight in neighbourhoods, and is describing the robot as a “new hometown hero”.

How many people will see the robot in a positive light remains to be seen, but it could have a similar impact on crime to a police presence, acting as a deterrent for criminals.

However, its recording capabilities could have the opposite effect. In many parts of the world there is a growing anti-surveillance mentality, which is playing out in resistance to new technologies that involve video recording. Most prominent of these is Google Glass, with at least one reported attack on a wearer occurring in the last month.


Images courtesy Knightscope.


Good vibrations: the phone that charges when you move

It’s now possible to charge your mobile phone using the natural vibrations that surround it on a daily basis.

A team of engineers from multiple universities have created a nanogenerator to harvest and convert vibration energy from a surface – such as the passenger seat of a moving car – into power for the phone.

The technology could have any number of uses, from being able to charge devices in environments where a regulated power supply is not available – such as disaster zones where power lines have been damaged – to reducing energy use and environmental pollution.

Xudong Wang, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, US, said the developments could solve the problem of smartphones having to be charged on a frequent basis.

He said: “We believe this development could be a new solution for creating self-charged personal electronics.”

In an age where we are using more and more energy to power devices, homes and electronic products, this development could help to reduce pollution as well as decrease our dependence on fossil fuels.


“We believe this development could be a new solution for creating self-charged personal electronics.”


There are more than 1.5bn smartphones in the world and the average amount of energy it takes to power an iPhone or Android for a year is 1 Kilowatt-hour – equivalent to ten 100-watt incandescent lightbulbs running for an hour.

If introduced to phones in the market, the technology could help to save colossal amounts of power each year. In theory it could also be implemented into other devices but may struggle to be used in static devices that do not experience many vibrations.

In a post on its website the University explained how the team worked around traditional problems: “Rather than relying on a strain or an electrical field, the researchers incorporated zinc oxide nanoparticles into a PVDF thin film to trigger formation of the piezoelectric phase that enables it to harvest vibration energy.

“Then, they etched the nanoparticles off the film; the resulting interconnected pores – called “mesopores” because of their size – cause the otherwise stiff material to behave somewhat like a sponge.”


If introduced to phones in the market, the technology could help to save colossal amounts of power each year.


The team envisage that the nanogenerator, the full name of which is ‘mesoporous piezoelectric nanogenerator,’ could become an important part of electronic devices.

They suggest it could be used as a back panel or casing on the product. This is as well as being able to harvest energy from the surroundings of the device.

Wang says the simplicity of his team’s design and fabrication process could scale well to larger manufacturing settings.

“We can create tunable mechanical properties in the film. And also important is the design of the device because we can realize this structure, phone-powering cases or self-powered sensor systems might become possible.”