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Science fiction? Why some retailers have begun using security bots.

Stores in the U.S. have a big problem with theft. And it doesn't help that merchants are also struggling to pay for security guards as labor costs rise. But William Santana Li has a solution right out of science fiction: Robot Guards.

“It's an exciting time to be developing brand new cutting edge technologies and taking all the crazy stuff that Hollywood had been streaming out and actually putting it in the real world,” Li, the CEO of Knightscope, which makes the security robots, told Yahoo Finance. (Video above)

By the numbers, it looks like a great opportunity for Li. and his Silicon Alley-based firm.

Wages for security guards and patrol services have increased 20% in the past three years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Meanwhile, complaints of retail theft soared during the pandemic, as Yahoo Finance previously reported. A 2022 survey by the National Retail Federation shows that organized retail theft (when crime rings facilitate the thievery) soared by 26.5% in 2021.

To solve both problems—theft and labor costs—Knightscope has produced the The K5 ASR, a 5 foot tall, roughly 400 pound, autonomous robot that patrols an area for crime. Knightscope offers annual subscriptions for the devices at a price of $0.75 to $7 per hour, according to the company.

Li said the robots operate “anywhere you might see an officer indoors or outdoors" and that their clients include commercial real estate, corporate campuses, law enforcement agencies, casinos, schools, parking structures and hospitals among other locations. Recently, home retailer Lowe's (LOW) began using Knightscope robots in Philadelphia, per the Philadelphia Inquirer. Li also said that PG&E (PCG) and ABM (AMB) are clients.

William Santana Li, chairman and CEO of Knightscope Inc. demonstrates a security robot at WSJD Live conference in Laguna Beach, California, U.S., October 25, 2016.     REUTERS/Mike Blake
William Santana Li, chairman and CEO of Knightscope Inc. demonstrates a security robot at WSJD Live conference in Laguna Beach, California, U.S., October 25, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake (Mike Blake / reuters)

“These are intended to not only deter negative behavior, but just physically being there, you can stop a lot of nonsense from happening, but to give officers and guards really smart eyes, ears, and their voice on the ground in multiple locations at the same time,” said Li.

The robot recharges itself without human intervention, according to Knightscope, and can run 24/7. It also uses 360-degree, eye-level video streaming and recording to assess its surroundings.

Robot security, according to a 2022 report by Forrester Research, can save companies up to $79,000 a year.

Knightscope maintains an online list of some of the victories the robots have achieved in fighting crime. For instance, the K5 curbed crime Huntington Park, a city in Los Angeles County, where it helped increase arrests by 27% over a year.

Can Knightscope can be trusted with all of the data its robots collect? Li claimed Knightscope has good intentions. “It's intended solely to be used for public safety, and it's not to be resold and used in any other manner other than at times improving our algorithms.”

The robots can collect up to 90 terabytes or 90,000 gigabytes of data per year and clients can retrieve information information for up to 30 days, according to Knightscope’s website.

"I don't believe the founders of our country ever expected us to build a society where going to school, going to work, or going shopping literally came with the risk of being shot or killed," Li said. "And that's why we're so passionate about making a big difference here and trying to get both the public and the private sector to work together to reimagine public safety."

Dylan Croll is a reporter and researcher at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @CrollonPatrol.

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