One of America’s most hated companies hired a security robot. It didn’t go well


Can a robot give you peace of mind?

This has been a problem for some time that has been stuck around my inner workings.

If robots are that smart — and some certainly are — they can protect us from all kinds of threats and terrible intrusions. From other robots, for example.

So when I first heard that a company called Knightscope had created security robots that patrolled buildings, I was unnaturally moved.

How would the local people, lower down, work? I learned this quickly when someone was accused of attacking one of these things at the company’s own offices in Mountain View, California.

But I continued to receive emails from the company, as their business was clearly thriving. Even when one of his security robots fell into a shopping mall fountain.

Recently, however, I heard that a local company — a company that many customers are angry about — had hired one of Knightscope’s rolling software sheriffs.

California utility PG&E has become notorious for its arrogant, monopolistic attitude and role in devastating fires. In 2020, its CEO took the stand and pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter during the Camp Fire in northern California.

So it came as no surprise to me when PG&E decided to hire an autonomous security robot at its yard at 19th and Folson Street in San Francisco and the locals weren’t very interested.

One resident told Mission Local: “These sidewalks have been used by homeless people for a while now, and the robot gets in the way of anyone who wants to do as much as stand here.”

Then there was the noise. A fine human security guard knows how to walk quietly. The Knightscope robot, however, makes surreal, spacey sounds, as if listening for Doctor Who.

A local said: “We can hear the annoying sound the robot makes all day, including when we are trying to sleep at night.”

So maybe locals will be cheering when they hear that the security robot experiment — which allegedly saved PG&E $9 an hour — has come to an end.

A PG&E spokesperson told the San Francisco Standard: “After some initial testing of the Knightscope unit and proactive discussions with the city on this matter, PG&E will not be moving forward with plans to deploy the unit at our Folsom site. “

Could it be that human discomfort has won the day – and the night? Could PG&E be so sensitive about its parlous brand image that it decided saving a little money — something its customers won’t be doing this winter — isn’t worth the trouble?

I asked Knightscope for their opinion and will update, should I hear a humming sound coming up my driveway.

Also: The best of CES 2023: 6 innovations that will shape the future

This all reminds me of the lovely experiment with robot war dogs.

The US Marines experimented with using Boston Dynamics robot dogs to carry equipment and perform other essential tasks, which lightened the load for the troops.

There was one small issue. The robot dogs made so much noise as they howled and clanged along the battlefield that they gave away the positions of the Marines.

Some ideas sound robotic in theory. But humans have certain emotional parameters that robot makers have not always taken into account.

Because, of course, it takes a rare mind to consider: “Wait, if the thing makes funny sounds at night, it could wake up the neighbors.”


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