Security Robot Bumps Toddler Harwin Cheng, Runs Him Over, California Mall Deactivates Them All

A security robot in California ran a toddler over on Thursday and then kept going. The machine apparently confirmed the possibility that giving them freedom to act on their own could be the first step toward the creation of Terminator-like robots.

The machine wasn’t intimidating at all as it was designed to look “cute” in order to take the fear out of encountering one. That didn’t make the security robot at the Stanford Shopping Center any less of a threat to public safety. After bumping into the toddler and knocking him down face-first, the robot then proceeded to run over the child’s foot.

Knightscope’s five-foot creation weighs in at 300 pounds, so when it ran over the toddler’s foot, it could have done serious damage. That is the equivalent of running over your foot with a motorcycle. There are a lot of bones down there, and at a toddler’s age, those bones could be broken so much more easily. Thankfully for 16-month-old Harwin Cheng, no bones were reported to be broken. His foot did swell up, however.

The robot’s initial purpose was to roam a public setting and alert authorities about anything unusual. It would keep a virtual eye out for wanted criminals, crimes in progress, odd noises, or sudden changes in the environment. Much like Google’s self-driving cars, the risk is always present that giving a machine the freedom to act on its own means it might not have sufficient regard for human safety.

The Stanford Shopping Center did the best thing under the circumstances with their security robots, deactivating them due to the damage caused to the toddler. They are going to investigate the incident and take steps to avoid it in the future. For now, all of their robots have been removed from the public spaces.

Knightscope, the creators of the robot in question, have issued a formal apology to the family of Harwin Cheng.

“Our primary mission is to serve the public’s overall safety, and we take any circumstance that would compromise that mission very seriously.”

The security robot has proven, as in previous incidents, that children pose the greatest threat to their purpose. Children often show little regard for common rules or their own safety, out of ignorance and youthful enthusiasm. Young Cheng had been walking in front of his parents as they passed the Armani Exchange when the toddler was bumped on the head, which knocked him over. Then the mall robot continued moving, rolling over his right foot and scraping his leg, according to Tiffany Teng, his mother.

We are still a long way from skeletal robots with rifles hunting down humans, but Knightscope’s security robot is proving to be a big enough problem. It is unknown at this point whether they’ll stop making these machines or simply look into better sensors and software to make security robots safer in public settings.


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[Feature image via serpeblu/Shutterstock.com]