About the size of a young child and resembling some sort of "Star Wars" movie extra, the egg-shaped robot that patrols Bakersfield Memorial Hospital is a force to reckon with. Equipped with cameras and sensors, it runs by itself and is programmed to say, “hello” to anyone it encounters in the lot. In addition, the robot has a security button that when pressed, can alert security guards. According to Ken Keller, the hospital’s chief operating officer, a soon to be installed software upgrade will allow the machine to receive commands in both English and Spanish.

Service robotics is a burgeoning tech industry

The Bakersfield hospital robot represents only one aspect of this emerging market that is bent on utilizing robots that have long been confined to dusty warehouses and factories and easing them into the public sector where they can be of service helping humanity. The idea is to employ the new capabilities in robot cognition that have been developed by dynamic technologies and capitalize on the ability of these robots to respond and interact with humans.

Surveillance is its business; its only business

If this sub-heading resembles those old Gerber baby food television commercials, so be it. But this robot like all others of its ilkis focused on its mission, which in this case is to patrol the Bakersfield Hospital emergency room parking lot.

Up and functioning for barely a week, it is hoped that by performing simple tasks the human guards will have more free time to interact with the public.

In the words of Ken Keller: "It's here for three reasons: safety, security and surveillance…It's here to augment our security officers and give them the ability to be more hands on with patients and families.” A hospital contest is currently underway to name their meandering robot.

Those interested should visit either the hospital website or their Facebook page and submit their ideas.

Security guards eye the mechanical interloper with a healthy dose of both gratitude and suspicion. Its future potential seems endless, as robots can no doubt become integral elements of any community’s security needs.

They can easily patrol sidewalks, schools, and streets in all kinds of inclement weather and via a mobile app, instantly alert residents of any impending danger.

The robot needs no sick leave, medical benefits, vacation time or raises in salary. As one cautious security guard put it: “It can’t open doors or pick up packages yet. Once it gets arms ... it'll replace all of us.”

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