The NYPD Robot Policing Times Square Station

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

It’s not this cool, yet

If you grew up in the ‘80s, then kickass movies like Robocop have had you pondering what a robotic policeman would look like for decades. Now, New York City has its own robotic cop, but he works a different beat than you might expect and looks nothing like Peter Weller. According to Gothamist, the NYPD has a robot that patrols the Times Square subway area looking for trouble.

This new addition to the police has been an automated force for justice since it was first introduced back in September. At the time, Mayor Eric Adams announced that the NYPD’s Knightscope K5 Autonomous Security Robot would help fight crime by relaying real-time info to the police as it unfolds. Of course, he also hoped that the unique sight of a 420-pound robot patrolling places like the subway might serve as a deterrent against future crime.

For all of its innovations, this NYPD robot has a few major limitations that set it apart from its flesh-and-blood brethren. For example, like the original Daleks in Doctor Who, the robot can’t handle the stairs, and unlike the Daleks, it has no weapons with which to threaten or hurt humanity. In the robot’s case, “observe and report” is quite literal: it has a 360-degree camera, allowing it to feed real-time info to police if trouble should unfold, and citizens can call for help by pushing the small button on its belly.

robocop game
The future of law enforcement?

Perhaps sensing all of the public anxiety surrounding automation, the NYPD has clarified that this robot doesn’t record audio or video and is not equipped with facial recognition software. However, many other robots created by Knightscope do utilize such features, so some residents are already hatching conspiracies that this giant, penguin-shaped robot is secretly gathering data on everyone. Such conspiracies seem a tad redundant, though, because what is arguably the most dystopian thing about this NYPD robot is the real reason that the city is renting its services.

Mayor Adams previously clarified that the NYPD is renting this robot from Knightscope for only $9 per hour; that’s far cheaper than the cost of paying cops to do a similar job, and while the robot currently has its own police escort of two officers, it will eventually operate completely on its own. According to Adams, the benefits of the robot are obvious: in addition to serving as cheap labor, the city gets a helpful bot that never has to break for a meal or head off to the bathroom. 

However, those who are worried about things like AI taking away human jobs are quick to point out that this robot is already effectively replacing at least one police officer’s job. Currently, local residents don’t seem all that impressed with this NYPD robot, but if it satisfies Adams, we could potentially end up with far more robots and far fewer cops throughout the city.

If the naysayers are proven correct, the NYPD robot may prove to be quite a bit like Robocop in one crucial way. That original film helped satirize the dangers of corporations getting into bed with law enforcement, and now it seems that New York’s mayor and cops are okay with the idea of outsourcing some of their policing needs to a third party. Time will tell whether this ambitious partnership proves effective or whether the citizens will protest agains more robots on the streets by modifying the most memorable Robocop line of all: “glitches, leave!”