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SoMa gas station security robot stars in livestream

Crime deterrent device takes on troubled intersection

A white, bullet-shaped robot with cameras on four sides, standing in a gas station parking lot. Photo by Adam L Brinklow

The future is now in San Francisco, as not only do our gas stations have robot security guards but those robots have 24-hour internet livestreams.

On Friday, YouTube user Brian King set up an ongoing stream on his channel surveilling the Shell station on Eighth and Harrison Streets in SoMa.

Presumably neither King nor his viewers particularly care about watching people get gas; rather, it’s the five-foot tall, pod-like white security robot idling outside that has everyone’s attention.

King tells Curbed SF the robot appeared on Friday morning.

“People seemed interested and pulled up some stories about bots being killed on duty, so I put up a livestream to capture any challenges the robot might face,” he says.

The robo-cop appears to be a Knightscope K5, produced by the Mountainview-based startup Knightscope. Founded in 2013, Knightscope markets its robots as crime deterrent devices.

Of the K5, the company’s product catalog says:

If a marked law-enforcement vehicle were parked in front of your facility, criminal behavior would dramatically change. Knightscope ADMs [autonmous data machines] have the same impact. Weighing in at 400 pounds and standing over five feet tall and three feet wide, the K5 balances a commanding physical presence [...] that provides an absolutely state of the art image for your operations.

According to SFPD’s Crime Maps tool, police received reports of 134 alleged crimes within a quarter mile of Eighth and Harrison in the past month, including 27 cases of assault, 16 vehicle break-ins, and 8 motor vehicle thefts at the intersection.

Among other things, the bot is supposed to scan license plates (“get alerts when terminated employees, trespassers, or domestic abusers are found in your parking lot”), and each of its four-way cameras notifies passersby that they’re being recorded.

The robot has top speed of just three miles per hour—slightly slower than the average human walking speed—so it wouldn’t be much good for chasing down offenders. But that’s not really its intended purpose; it’s there to make people feel like they’re being watched.

Channel viewers have noted that the cyber stakeout is a mostly sedate affair, with the unit rarely even leaving its post or interacting with people. It does guest star in a lot of selfies, though.

King adds, “Last night the bot was continuously playing a short loop of atmospheric Brian Eno-sounding tones. The employees had no idea how to turn down the volume, but told me that the robot helped with the homeless.”

Station management has not responded to requests for comment.