The 'suicidal robot' that drowned in a fountain didn't kill itself after all

Technical error as algorithm fails to detect uneven surface

Fiona Keating
Saturday 29 July 2017 19:02 BST

A security robot called Steve did not commit suicide by falling into a fountain in Washington DC, but due to a tragic accident.

After retrieving data from Steve the roboguard’s black box discovered that the accident was caused not by suicide but by skidding on a “loose brick surface”, according to the machine’s manufacturer, Knightscope.

A technical error led to the K5 robot’s demise when an algorithm did not detect the uneven surface, leading to Steve tumbling into the fountain and drowning.

A replacement machine was sent to the office complex within 48 hours. Washington Harbour also received a month’s credit as well as an all-inclusive service policy include maintenance costs, according to Reuters.

The manufacturer of the security robot downplayed the incident, saying it was an “isolated” incident which would lead to improvements. “Developing state-of-the-art autonomous technology must be done in real-world environments,” said the Silicon Valley-based maker.

“It is not commercially reasonable to be developed in constrained laboratory settings.”

According to the company, the K5 Autonomous Data Machine which is about five feet tall, was on a mission to map out the grounds of the complex when it tumbled down some stairs and toppled into the fountain.

The incident went viral on Twitter after an employee at the Washington Harbour complex, Bilal Farooqui posted a picture of the robot with news of Steve’s ill-fated dip in the fountain. “We were promised flying cars, instead we got suicidal robots,” he wrote.

Photos of the submerged robot were shared, showing bemused staff wading into the water. A woman in a black dress looks on pensively.

Other tweets suggested that the robot had quit its job and it was a “win” for humans.

The K5 has a 360-degree video camera, several microphones, air quality sensors and has thermal imaging capabilities. The Dalek-like machine can scan up to 1,500 number plates per second, while the microphones can detect gun shots, according to Ars Technica.

In 2016, the K5 was involved in an accident when it ran over a 16-month-old child at the Stanford Shopping Centre, leaving him bruised and shaken. "The robot hit my son's head and he fell face down on the floor. The robot did not stop, it kept moving forward," Tiffany Cheng, the toddler's mother, to ABC 7. "He was crying like crazy."

Ironically, Knightscope said that Steve was being repaired and is “tentatively scheduled to patrol of all places, a major aquarium.”

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