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Robocop goes live! NYC deploys ‘creepy’ copbot in Times Sq.

By Jake Beardslee · September 23, 2023

In brief…

  • NYC Mayor Adams unveiled a fully autonomous, outdoor security robot called K5.
  • It has been initially deployed in the city's sprawling Times Square subway station.
  • K5 provides physical deterrence with 360-degree HD recording and audio messages.
  • It moves at a steady 3 mph clip.
  • Mayor Adams sees technology such as robots and drones as a budget-friendly way to boost law enforcement.
  • Some critics worry new tech leads to more surveillance without meaningfully improving safety.
New York City deployed an R2-D2-like security robot in the Times Square subway station to improve safety and deter crime.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams unveiled a new robotic security device called K5 that is now being piloted in the Times Square subway station.

The 5-foot-3-inch robot, which weighs nearly 400 pounds and resembles Star Wars droid R2-D2, is made by California company Knightscope and is already used in hospitals, malls, airports, warehouses and casinos.

The cost of leasing the autonomous robot averages roughly $9 per hour - a steal according to Mayor Adams.

“This is below minimum wage,” Adams said. “No bathroom breaks, no meal breaks.”

Critics, however, are not are optimistic.

Albert Fox Cahn, executive Director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, a privacy and civil rights group, called K5 a “trash can on wheels.”

K5 has four cameras and began roaming the mezzanine level of the sprawling Times Square station Friday. It will be initially accompanied by a human officer. Riders can use it to call for help once the two-week mapping phase ends.

The mayor, a one-time transit police officer, aims to boost safety without compromising New Yorkers’ civil liberties. He sees technology like K5 as an effective, budget-friendly way to enhance law enforcement.

Adams, who recently was given a demonstration of drone policing by Israeli law officials, successfully deployed NYPD drones at the annual West Indian American Day Parade. Privacy advocates, such as Cahn, remain skeptical.

“If the mayor thinks there aren’t enough cameras in Times Square, then he’s more out of touch than I realized,” Cahn told the New York Times. “It’s more surveillance theater. This is a mayor who doubles down on public relations stunts rather than public safety any chance he gets.”

Subway ridership has rebounded post-pandemic having reached 4 million daily passengers - the highest in three years. Major crime is down 4.5% in the transit system over all.

“When people feel unsafe to use our trains and buses, it impacts our economic stability,” said Adams, who believes public safety is key to the city’s economic health.