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George Mason University received a fleet of 25 delivery robots (above) to deliver food to students across its campus.

Techno-Frat: Automation in the modern world and beyond

Forget Uber Eats. Students at George Mason University in Fairfax County, Virginia, have been offered a more innovative and exciting alternative to their meal deliveries: robots.

That’s right, students can now call upon a fleet of twenty-five cooler-sized wheeled robots to deliver their on-campus foods or midnight snacks.

The robots in question can tote up to 20 pounds and, according to the Robotics Business Review, “are designed to deliver goods locally in 15 to 30 minutes within a 2-3-mile radius, for under $1.”

The computerized courier’s inventors, Estonian company Starship Technologies, have a presence in the UK, Germany, Washington D.C. and Silicon Valley. It aims to provide an efficient, environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional food delivery and has been, by all accounts, successful.

The robots are fully autonomous and able to make local deliveries from grocery stores and restaurants virtually for free. They do, however, still require the assistance of an employee to ensure quality and security.

This begs the question: What other areas of the professional sphere could be just as easily manned by robots, perhaps with chilling consequences?

Just ask Knightscope, the security and technology firm with a long-term goal to make “the United States of America the safest country in the world.” Also based in Silicon Valley, which will be the epicenter of the robot uprising when it happens, the company manufactures security robots for private businesses.

That’s right, security robots.

Knightscopes robots are used for surveillance wherever they are employed.

Luckily, these synthetic sentinels aren’t armed (yet), and are instead meant specifically for surveillance, supplementing their human security guard counterparts and alerting them to any danger through their “eye level 360 degree HD streaming and recording,” Knightscope’s website said.

It’s certainly a good thing the 398-pound machines remain unarmed for the time-being, as their judgement is questionable.

Although they can only reach a top speed of three miles per hour, an entire fleet has already been temporarily deactivated following an alleged accident. According to ABC News, a Knightscope K5, one of the largest models available, ran over a 16-month-old at a Silicon Valley shopping center.

“He fell down on the floor, and the robot did not stop,” the child’s mother said.

Luckily, the child suffered only minor injuries and received an invitation from Knightscope to come and visit its headquarters in Mountain View, California. Not the best move. I wouldn’t exactly enjoy free SkyMiles if I survived a plane crash.

This incident revealed one of myriad ethical issues Knightscope robots must overcome before becoming fully autonomous.

The complexity and unpredictability of human society and situations we have deemed egregious enough to be considered criminal are best left to humans. Nevertheless, the sinister, Dalek-looking robots are equipped with a shiny arsenal of Big Brother-esque surveillance equipment, and their manufacturers boast the machine’s uncanny ability to read and record up to 1200 license plates a minute.

These technological feats may once and for all lock away the dreaded double parker, but they will do little against the ever-present and archetypal malice which exists within the fabric of society.

The $6,500-per-month machines have been harassed by intoxicated passersby, assaulted—although one must question the legitimacy of this term concerning artificial intelligence—and smeared with barbecue sauce, all of which and more would undoubtedly happen were the robots employed at a college campus.

Governments aren’t too keen on the things either. Their lack of jurisdictional awareness often leaves them wandering onto city property without their knowing and has led to legal issues.

But the robots aren’t taking all this abuse lying down. Besides the aforementioned hit and run, a Washington, D.C., K5 made an unexpected, although somewhat understandable, protest by falling down the stairs and into the fountain in the plaza of an office building. Some jobs just aren’t worth it, I suppose.

One of Knightscope’s security robots fell into the fountain on the job. It became the butt of many Twitter jokes and a subject for many news outlets.

So, whether it’s delivering your food or handing out your parking tickets, artificial intelligence is sure to play an ever-increasing role in the society of the near future. If the outlook of the Knightscope development team is anything to go by, however, we should be okay.

Its website shows a diverse group of business casual Californians freeze-framed in a mid-air simultaneous jump. Behind them is their entire lineup of security robot models, looking on with an almost sinister solemnity.

Not to worry. If one day mankind is overrun by hordes of comparatively affordable, aesthetically pleasing security robots brandishing firearms of their own design, we will know their one weakness: stairs.

Written by Patrick Barry, Staff Writer. Photos courtesy of Starship Technologies, Knightscope and @bilalfarooqui.

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