New crime fighting robot takes on losing battle in NYC subway system

When a notification comes up on my phone and I see “Eric Adams” as the headline, my first thought is “What stupid thing did he do this time?” Well, this time it was introducing a 398 pound crime fighting robot to the busiest platform of the New York City subway system.

On Friday, Sept. 22, the New York City mayor introduced K5, a 5-foot-3-inch robot working for the New York Police Department (NYPD), to the Times Square subway station. K5 will work from midnight to 6 a.m., capturing video and essentially serving as a blue light system for New Yorkers.

Looking beyond K5’s checkered past, the logistics of the machine are hard to wrap your head around.

K5 will have a button passengers can press to immediately contact police, and will be a constant video surveillance device despite not capturing any audio. According to the website of its manufacturer, Knightscope, K5 can travel at a top speed of 3 mph, has a “people detection” system, license plate recognition and is fully weatherproof. 

Three mph doesn’t sound fast, right? And with the people detection system, I can’t see anything possibly going wrong. Except for when the robot realizes New Yorkers are too much to handle and promptly quits on the job, like it did in 2017 in a Washington D.C. mall. Or when the people detection system is overwhelmed, and it promptly runs over and nearly kills a child, like it did in 2016 in Silicon Valley. 

So all New York has to do in order to avoid problems is not let children on the subway, and make sure it doesn’t try to jump on the tracks — I mean we all have somewhere to be, right?

In theory, the idea for K5 is spot on. It’s no secret that the subway can be a scary place to ride, especially between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m., so having ground-level video surveillance during that time seems like a no brainer. On top of that, the robot only costs the city $9 per hour.

K5 is currently undergoing a pilot period for two months, where the NYPD will monitor how it interacts with people and what kinks need to be worked out. After the pilot program is completed, the NYPD, along with Adams, will come up with what they think is the best plan for the robot.

Looking beyond K5’s checkered past, the logistics of the machine are hard to wrap your head around. We’re not talking about some random parking lot in Mississippi or a small college campus like Ramapo, this is the New York City subway system, the same system that sees millions of riders per day. 

Knightscope’s website states that “the K5 is best suited for securing large, outdoor spaces.” So, not quite the same thing as busy subway stations are small, confined indoor spaces. In all honesty, if this were at a different subway system, my concerns wouldn’t be the same. But we’re talking about New Yorkers, the same people who graffiti anything with a surface, ride between moving subway cars and elected Bill de Blasio twice. 

So could this ticking time bomb on wheels actually work to help reduce crime on the subway? Sure, in the same way Adams could one day come off as anything other than a self-righteous maniac who only likes to hear himself talk, I’m sure anything is possible.

Featured photo courtesy of @NYCMayor, X