Last fall, the New York City Police Department introduced a 400-pound, five-foot-three robot named K5 at the bustling 42nd Street subway station in Times Square. Developed by Silicon Valley startup Knightscope, K5 was intended to serve as a crime-deterrent and assist law enforcement. However, it quickly became the target of criticism for its perceived ineffectiveness and impracticality.
The robot’s limitations were apparent from the start, with New Yorkers dismissing it for its inability to perform essential police tasks. K5 required constant supervision from officers and was rendered useless by the presence of stairs, making it more of a hindrance than an asset. After just four months in service, K5 has officially been retired and now sits idle in a forgotten part of one of the city’s busiest subway stations.
The retirement of K5 has been met with relief from various parties involved, including NYPD officers. The robot’s ineffectiveness and the need for officers to babysit it undermined its intended purpose. The executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, Albert Fox Cahn, humorously described K5 as a “trash can on wheels” that appears to have stopped working altogether.
The use of public funds for such dubious technology, coupled with recent controversies like the NYPD’s robot dog, raises concerns about law enforcement priorities. Despite Mayor Eric Adams touting K5 as the latest and greatest in law enforcement technology, it failed to rise above being the subject of jokes. The initial vision of K5 deterring crime simply by existing and communicating with people feeling unsafe turned out to be far from reality.
In the end, K5’s retirement highlights the challenges and pitfalls associated with investing in cutting-edge but unproven technologies, especially when public funds are involved. The episode raises questions about the appropriateness of such investments, particularly when they lead to the dismissal of human staff in favor of experimental robotic solutions.