One may recall how over a decade ago the “Shoe” and “Underwear Bomber” operations provided the rationale for heightening security measures at the nation’s airports. Such efforts included harmful radiation-emitting full-body scanners and banning menacingly-large containers of shampoo and toothpaste.
A similar opportunity to cash in on tragedy appears to be taking shape in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting of February 14, 2018. Knightscope, a company founded after the Sandy Hook massacre by a former police officer, is now aggressively marketing its high-priced robots to school districts with the curious pitch that they will decrease the likelihood of an “active shooter” event.
In the prelude to the deployment of such devices, Knightscope has permeated the educational process itself by introducing a contest encouraging students to submit essays explaining how they think robots will make them safer than conventional security protocols.
Last month, Knightscope announced a contest inviting students to write an essay about how the Silicon Valley-based security company’s robots could make them safer at school. “Let’s work together on a solution while the ‘adults’ keep bickering,” the pitch states, offering two free years of services from Knightscope and its robots to the winning student’s school. Stacy Stephens, the company’s VP of Sales, talked to Gizmodo about the proposal.
“When the tragedy in Florida took place, we said, ‘okay, we’ve got 15 states in the US covered,’” Stephens said. “We’ve had several successes with our technologies in corporate campuses and retail shopping centers, now would be a good time to get some schools on board.”
“The robots aren’t armed,” according to the report, “though Stephens recommends programming them to patrol entrances and exits to thwart shooters who strike while people are distracted.
“’Students are already in school, robot’s patrolling around a campus while everybody’s inside the school, why is there a person here at 9:30 in the morning?’”
Digital Trends wrote in 2017 that the devices are available for lease, and will cost a considerable sum.
The robots, which come in two models — one for indoor use and one for outdoor use — are available on a subscription basis. Knightscope’s plans start at about $7 an hour for 24/7 surveillance (about $62,000 annually), and include monthly software updates, maintenance, and remote assistance from the company’s 2,000 technicians.
Aside from the expense and riding on the coat-tails of tragedy, there are a number of privacy-related concerns and ethical problems posed by robotizing security. The devices will roam about recording and storing everything, unable to discern between small and life threatening occurrences, not unlike a mobile CCTV camera. Their use will contribute to even greater surveillance in a sphere where monitoring–from peers and teachers to standardized testing– is already intense.
And who will ensure that what is (or is not) recorded by the machines is in fact an accurate depiction of a given event?
Moreover, even Gizmodo points out that active shooter events are rare. “More students die in bike riding accidents each year than at the hands of school shooters.” And even school shootings statistics can be inflated, particularly when provided by the gun control lobby and its bought-and-paid-for politicians.
Knightscope’s sales representative maintains that there are many uses for the product. “I think it’ll be fairly easy to quantify the use of the machine,” Stephens notes. “Vandalism of vehicles, burglary of vehicles, assaults, fights on school campuses, those are all things you can begin to look at and be a little bit more holistic.”