Robots Take Over Houston, Texas' Transit Center, Rail Platform, and Park-and-Ride Lot
Wed, April 14, 2021

Robots Take Over Houston, Texas' Transit Center, Rail Platform, and Park-and-Ride Lot

The robots have raised alarms with regard to privacy and hacking / Photo Credit: Sean Pavone (via Shutterstock)

 

What are you going to do when Officer K5 is approaching you? You can run away but K5 will probably take a video of your escape, said Dug Begley of the Houston Chronicle, a daily newspaper based in Houston, Texas. Robot security guards are taking over a Houston-area transit center, park-and-ride lot, and rail station in the coming months after the Metropolitan Transit Authority board approved a $270,000 test of the robots on Thursday. Denise Wendler, chief information officer for Metro, said, “They have been shown to be deterrents." Metro’s agreement with Knightscope is a one-year test, he added. From there, it can expand to three other locations. Officials sought more information on the robot police force as there is a need to provide more security against petty crimes without excessively consuming police resources.

Agency officials and the company will decide which parking lots, transit centers, and rail stops get a robot in the first year, Wendler explained. Security sentinels are becoming ubiquitous in shopping malls and some developments. For instance, you can see a robot patrolling the grounds of Allen Center in downtown Houston. Many users have said robots are a cost-effective crime deterrent. However, the units have raised alarms with regard to privacy because a robot roaming around public spaces is recording and broadcasting everything to private and public entities. Concerns regarding hacking have also been raised.

Metro officials are likely to deploy a 400-pound, 5’2” bullet-shaped K5 robot at a transit center and park-and-ride lot. It can also move at a maximum speed of 3 miles per hour. While it may appear like a sleek R2-D2, K5’s ability to capture video and transmit it to the police is a real threat to thieves and other criminals. Wendler said, “What they have seen is people move away from it because they do not want to be videoed.”

On the other hand, Metro is likely to use a stationary K1 robot at the rail platform to give people the ability to immediately report incidents as the unit’s camera scans the platform. Knightscope recommended the K1 robot since officials thought its mobile counterparts can pose safety hazards and disrupt foot traffic at the rail stop.