Crime-fighting robot hits, rolls over child at Silicon Valley mall

A security company has apologized for a “freakish accident” after its crime-fighting robot hit a 16-month-old boy on the head and ran over him at a shopping mall in Palo Alto.

Knightscope Inc. said attempts to reach the family haven’t been successful, but the company invited them to its headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., to prevent similar incidents from happening.

“Our first thoughts are for the family, and we are thankful that there were no serious injuries,” said William Santana Li, the company’s chairman and chief executive officer. “Our primary mission is to serve the public’s overall safety, and we take any circumstances that would compromise that mission very seriously.”

The company said the child ran toward the robot, which veered to avoid him as it was patrolling, and the toddler then ran backward and directly into the robot. When the robot stopped, the boy fell to the ground.

“The machine’s sensors registered no vibration alert, and the machine motors did not fault as they would when encountering an obstacle,” the company said in a statement.

The incident, it said, took a few seconds, and the robot continued patrolling. The robots have had thousands of encounters with people and pets without incident, the company said.

Tiffany Teng told KGO-TV that she and her family were visiting the Stanford Shopping Center on Thursday when the robot, also known as an autonomous data machine, suddenly hit her son’s head and caused him to fall to the ground. While still on the ground, the robot ran over his right foot, which became swollen, she told the news station.

“He was crying like crazy, and he never cries. He seldom cries,” Teng told KGO-TV, pointing out her son also suffered a scrape.

A security guard told her the same thing happened to another child.

Dubbed the K5, Knightscope thinks the bot could intimidate criminals.

“If a marked law enforcement vehicle were placed in front of your facility, criminal behavior would dramatically change. ADMs have the same impact,” the company said.

Standing 5 feet tall and 3 feet wide, the 300-pound, egg-shaped bot looks more like R2-D2 of “Star Wars,” but with cameras, sonar sensors and flashing lights.

Using 30 sensors, code and lasers, the robot gathers real-time data and provides immediate alerts through advanced detection technology. It can live stream events and offer “smart eyes and ears,” its creators said.

Moving at 1 mph, the robots have driven more than 25,000 miles and logged 35,000 hours. The bots can sense the environment less than an inch away.

“There have been thousands of encounters with adults, children and both large and small pets documented daily on social media that have also taken place without any reported incidents,” the company said.

In a statement, the mall said it was investigating what happened and has removed the robots from service.

“The safety of our shoppers is always our highest priority. We are investigating this incident thoroughly, and the K5 units have been docked until the investigation is complete,” the mall said.

A mall spokeswoman declined to say how many robots were docked.

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UPDATES:

July 14, 8:29 a.m.: This article was updated with additional information about the robots’ use and an apology from the company.

4:52 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from the robot company Knightscope Inc.

This article was originally published at 3:05 p.m. July 13.

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