Was This 300-Pound Robot Falsely Accused of Assault?

Rumors of the rise of the machines may have been greatly exaggerated.

R2D2’s older brother? Robot B-9 from Lost in Space? A giant chrome gherkin on wheels? No matter what you think it looks like, the 300-pound K5 Autonomous Data Machine, a robotic security device that patrols a Palo Alto, Calif. mall, isn’t to be messed with – or falsely accused. And now its makers are pushing back after it may or may not have assaulted a toddler.

The K5 (machine ID No. 13, so why don’t we call him No. 13 for short) was on duty at the Stanford Shopping Center on July 7, where it patrols the crowds to detect suspicious behavior, when it ran into 16-month-old Harwin Cheng. The boy walked away from his encounter with the 7-foot tall robot with some scrapes and bruises.

“The robot hit my son’s head and he fell down facing down on the floor, and the robot did not stop and it kept moving forward,” his mother told local station KGO. The shopping center soon powered down and grounded its fleet or robot patrolmen.

But now Knightscope, the company that created No. 13, is contesting the boy’s mother’s version of events. This week, it issued a statement leaping to No. 13’s defense, saying that it was actually the boy who ran towards the robot, and that No. 13 tried to swerve away. No. 13’s sensors registered no vibration alert and the machine motors did not fault, the company said. 

Knightscope’s attempts to reach out to the family were apparently ignored, so it issues a public apology to clear the (hopefully innocent) robot’s name.

“K5 Autonomous Data Machines have driven over 25,000 miles and have been in operation for over 35,000 hours typically traveling at approximately 1 mph without any reported incidents,” Knightscope said.

Another classic case of “she-said, Silicon Valley robotics startup-said,” we suppose. Everyone should probably just calm down, though – it could have been much worse.


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