Los Angeles Times

William Santana Li imagines a future where robots will keep Americans safe. Communities, he dreams, will take security into their own hands by investing in wheeled machines that patrol streets, sidewalks and schools — instantly alerting residents via a mobile app of intruders or criminal behavior.

“What if we could crowd-source security?” said Li, co-founder and chief executive of a robotics company, Knightscope, that hopes to eventually do just that.

His question is like many posed by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs seeking to modernize, privatize and monetize services once entrusted to the government — and it’s one that has intrigued venture capitalists who have pumped $14 million into his start-up.

Already, Knightscope robots are edging into the private security industry, patrolling parking lots, a shopping center and corporate campuses in California. The company’s ambitions, though, are much bigger.

Knightscope manufactures two robots — the five-foot tall K5 and the four-foot K3. Both weigh a hefty 300 pounds (they were designed to make it hard to tip over). Customers such as the Stanford Shopping Center, Qualcomm and Uber rent them starting at about $7 an hour (Knightscope, based in Mountain View, Calif., charges more if companies want extra services, such as more than two weeks of data storage).

The robots — which resemble a cross between R2D2 and a Dalek from “Doctor Who” — can record, stream, send and store video; provide thermal imaging; read license plates; track parked cars; serve as a two-way intercom; play a pre-recorded message; and detect humans in places they’re not supposed to be.