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Trinity Metro is patrolling this Fort Worth train station with ... a robot?

August 21,2020

See full Fort Worth Star-Telegram by Gordon Dickson here.

Fort Worth has its own version of R2-D2, and its name is Sundance.

The city’s transit agency, Trinity Metro, has deployed an autonomous robot to help with security at Fort Worth Central Station downtown. The cyber security machine is named after the city’s famous Sundance Square.

“Kids are coming up and hugging and kissing it. They take selfies all day long,” said Jon-Erik “A.J.” Arjanen, Trinity Metro vice president and chief operating officer for rail.

Sundance is 5 feet 2 inches tall — more than a foot taller than the fictitious R2-D2 in the Star Wars movies — and rolls across the floor of Central Station without human assistance. Much like a Roomba vacuum, Sundance memorizes the boundaries of the room it is in, and becomes increasingly familiar with its surroundings with each pass.

When Sundance’s batteries are running low, the robot dispatches itself to its charging station. Sundance — which is painted in Trinity Metro’s signature blue, red and silver livery and features the transit agency’s logo on its virtual chest — can patrol the train station up to 18 hours a day, seven days a week.

The top of the robot features video cameras that provide 360 degrees of coverage. The video provides human security employees with a live feed, so while they are working inside the security office in the bowels of Central Station they can see everything the robot is seeing.

The video is also recorded, in the event that a crime or other incident occurs and officials later need to review the footage.

Sundance also can broadcast public service messages to Trinity Metro riders and passers-by. The audio can be used for a two-way conversation between passers-by and security officers monitoring Sundance from a remote location.

The decision to deploy Sundance came as Trinity Metro officials were looking for ways to expand security measures at the city’s main transit centers, without dramatically raising costs.

The cost of operating Sundance is about $7,600 a month, or roughly $14 per hour of operation, Trinity Metro spokesperson Laura Hanna said. The machine is built by a company named Knightscope, a California firm that specializes in “Autonomous Security Robots,” and is provided to Trinity Metro in a two-year lease as part of its contract with Allied Universal Security Services.

“It’s really a force multiplier for our team,” Arjanen said. “It allows us to better allocate our human capital, so they’re out there where there’s greater need.”

For now, Sundance is only patrolling inside the train station, but eventually the robot will be programmed to patrol the outside of the station, where thousands of passengers per day transfer between Trinity Metro buses and trains on TEXRail and the Trinity Railway Express.

Central Station also features Fort Worth’s Greyhound bus terminal, an Enterprise Rent-A-Car facility and a Subway restaurant.

Once the robot operates outdoors, it will be able to use license plate recognition to help security officers track down any vehicles involved in an incident at the station, officials said.

Trinity Metro officials aren’t worried about passers-by damaging or trying to make off with Sundance. If anyone attempts to disturb the robot, the entire event will be recorded for police.

Besides, Arjanen said, Sundance is no wimpy machine.

“It weighs 398 pounds,” he said. “It’s pretty sturdy.”

Locations Mentioned: Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Fort Worth Central Station, Subway- Fort Worth Central