In the otherwise sleepy, rosé-soaked summer scenery of the Georgetown waterfront in Washington, DC, tragedy struck.
A security bot was found face-down in a public fountain, surrounded by families of tourists and curious office dwellers out on their lunch breaks. The robot was one of the autonomous security units developed by Knightscope to monitor the mean streets. Today, it met its untimely end.
A spokesperson for a communications firm representing MRP Realty, which manages Washington Harbour, told me that the company is working with Universal Security and Knightscope on the pilot program for this autonomous security system.
"As Washington Harbour is one of the first lifestyle centers to explore this technology, the information that we learn within the first few weeks of its operation will be critical to optimizing this system going forward," they said in an email. "This initial phase is our opportunity to implement, vet, and remediate any bugs in the system to help advance both the programming and security features in a busy mixed-use center such as Washington Harbour. These incidents show us where improvements are needed, which may then be deployed to contribute to the ongoing security of our tenants and residents."
Steven Nelson, a reporter at US News & World Report, told Motherboard that he saw the robot alive and apparently well several hours ago: "I saw that robot like 2 hours ago when i went for a walk," he said. "Was thinking people would have fun spray painting it."
Several eyewitnesses and DC-local blogs reported that the robot fell into the fountain. After the initial reports, Nelson checked out the scene for Motherboard and said it had since been removed, but said a local (human) security guard confirmed that the robot did indeed take a plunge.
This isn't the first time a Knightscope robot made headlines for misbehaving: A unit allegedly ran over a toddler near Palo Alto last year. After that incident, a Knightscope spokesperson told KXAN in Austin, Texas that the robots had clocked more than 25,000 miles and 35,000 hours of operation, and that this hit-and-run was the first reported incident of its kind.
A spokesperson for the DC Metropolitan Police told me that they hadn't heard reports of a robo-fatality today. Security at the scene is handled by a private company, they said. It's too soon to speculate motives, but Motherboard editor-in-chief Jason Koebler understands this plight: "I've fallen in that fountain. Could happen to anyone."
Update: this story has been updated with a statement from a communications firm representing MRP Realty, which manages Washington Harbour. It has also been updated with a statement from Knightscope.