Developed by Knightscope, the K5 Autonomous Data Machine is a 5 foot tall, 300 pound robotic device designed to be “a safety and security tool for corporations, as well as for schools and neighborhoods,” as reported by the New York Times. While K5 may not yet be ready for prime time, its developers are hoping to lure early adopters at “technology companies that employ large security forces to protect their sprawling campuses.” Eventually, K5 could be used to roam city streets, schools, shopping centers, and, yes, workplaces.
According to the Times, K5 will be equipped with a “video camera, thermal imaging sensors, a laser range finder, radar, air quality sensors and a microphone.” The stated mission of the developers is to reduce crime by 50%. They explain that data collected through K5’s sensors is “processed through our predictive analytics engine, combined with existing business, government and crowdsourced social data sets, and subsequently assigned an alert level that determines when the community and the authorities should be notified of a concern.” It is not a stretch to think that the device’s capabilities could be modified to address different applications.
Some are raising concerns that this and similar devices will take jobs away from the private security guard industry. Others believe K-5 will only add to “big brother”-type surveillance that continues to erode personal privacy. Just this week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a substantial increase in surveillance cameras to be installed in some of the City’s public housing developments. In many settings, concerns about security are winning over concerns about privacy. Consider the assisted living, nursing home business where patient and resident abuse is driving a greater need for security at the expense of privacy and despite the need for added compliance measures under HIPAA.
K5 raises additional issues for the workplace. Having K-5 roaming around retail space, office space, common areas and so on, even if only intended to address security concerns of the business, could trigger a number of unintended consequences for employers and their employees. K-5 might capture evidence of employee negligence in connection with treatment of customers or patients. Capable of audio and video recording, K-5 could record conversations between employees, between employees and supervisors, between employees and family members and other communications that raise workplace privacy and other issues. For example, capturing a conversation between an employee and her spouse about care for their child suffering from a disease could raise issues under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. Of course, recordings like these, which could include recording of communications between employees and customers or patients, could be made without first obtaining the consent of one or all parties to the conversation, in violation federal and/or state laws. Video of an employee working past his or her scheduled time could become evidence of wage and hour violations. Increased workplace surveillance might be argued by some to chill protected speech by employees. These are only examples of the potential workplace risks and, of course, there are potential benefits to this kind of technology. K-5 may in fact provide greater security to employees and deter prohibited and criminal activities.
Devices like K-5 are not inherently good or bad. Rather, the purposes for which they are used and the surrounding circumstances, among other things, will determine the relevant risks and appropriateness. There certainly will be no shortage of devices like K-5 in the years to come. The message to businesses however is to understand the capabilities of these devices and carefully think through the business and workplace applications and consequences, and hope that the law soon catches up to provide some guidance.