Security Robot Suspended After Colliding With a Toddler

Children approach a K5 robot assigned to security patrol at the Stanford Shopping Center. ENLARGE
Children approach a K5 robot assigned to security patrol at the Stanford Shopping Center. Photo: Georgia Wells/The Wall Street Journal

A mall in Silicon Valley this week suspended its security robots after a collision involving one of them resulted in a toddler getting a bruised leg—a reversal from children harassing robots at the mall.

The accident could reignite fears about evil robots that many robot makers have tried to overcome with cute designs.

The robot company, Knightscope Inc., designed its 300-pound machine to protect against malicious humans. Children usually present the greatest risk to robots’ ability to get their jobs done, previous incidents showed. Knightscope was the subject of a Wall Street Journal page one article last month.

Knightscope called the incident a “freakish accident” and issued a formal apology to the family.

“Our primary mission is to serve the public’s overall safety, and we take any circumstance that would compromise that mission very seriously,” said William Santana Li, Knightscope’s chief executive.

The Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, Calif., said it is investigating the incident, and has docked its robots until the investigation is complete. The robots also report for duty at Qualcomm Inc., QCOM 0.38 % Uber Technologies Inc., and other corporate campuses and sports arenas.

The mall introduced Knightscope’s K5 robots last year to collect security footage through camera “eyes” positioned on its white shell. Typically the robots at the Stanford Shopping Center attract groups of children and pique the interest of curious shoppers.

Last week, 16-month-old Harwin Cheng was walking in front of his parents outside an Armani Exchange store at the mall when his mother pointed out a K5 coming their way.

Harwin didn’t seem to notice the robot, and he bumped into it and fell forward. His mother, Tiffany Teng, says the robot ran over his foot.

Knightscope says their unit would have registered a vibration if it had run over his foot. Each robot has nearly 30 sensors, including lasers and sonar sensors, Knightscope said.

In response to the accident, Knightscope issued its first field incident report in its robots’ 25,000 miles of travel. The statement says the machine veered to the left to avoid Harwin, but the child ran backward “directly” into the machine. The machine then stopped and the child fell, the statement said.

Ms. Teng says her son’s pediatrician found no serious injury, though her son’s right foot shows signs of bruising.

“I’ve never seen my son cry like that,” Ms. Teng says.

Write to Georgia Wells at [email protected] US Business

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