A Behind-The-Scenes Look at Mobile Security Robots

Adam Pollack (MSR '17) explains what he does at Knightscope and how he implements what he learned in Northwestern's Master of Science in Robotics (MSR) program.

When you visit the Knightscope website, you are quickly presented with a question:

Isn't it time you gave your security program a 21st-century overhaul?

That overhaul comes in the form of robots, and as a robotics engineer, Adam Pollack (MSR '17) helps Knightscope facilitate this new generation of security. Pollack recently took a few minutes to talk about what he does at Knightscope and how his experience in Northwestern's Master of Science in Robotics (MSR) program helped prepare him for his current role and responsibilities.

How do you describe your job and responsibilities at Knightscope to someone with no background in robotics?

Knightscope is a company that designs, builds, and operates mobile security robots. Each of these robots has four cameras which process and record video for client use. I am primarily focused on using machine learning to help the company provide useful information to clients.

I have worked on projects to add object detection to the video pipeline to enable the robot to detect people, license plates, and faces. I do everything from training deep learning models to learn how to detect these objects, to deploying these models in the field and making sure everything is running 24/7.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love being able to work on challenging problems every day and to be able to really make an impact on the company with my work.

As you were looking into MSR, what was it about the program that appealed to you?

I liked that the MSR program provides a hands-on and flexible environment in which to learn. The idea of a program focused mainly on implementing things in actual, working projects was very appealing. I was also very excited about being able to choose the majority of the courses I would be taking. I was able to choose courses that pushed me to learn computer science while working on projects that applied these skills to physical environments.

How would you describe your MSR experience?

My MSR experience was focused on learning as much as possible and trying new things. I attempted to stretch the skills I learned in my coursework when working on projects. I also made a ton of valuable connections and still hang out with members of the MSR program since I moved to the Bay Area.

What are two or three of the most important lessons you've learned during your time in the program?

I learned how to apply lessons learned from coursework and professors to hands-on projects. I also learned how to quickly understand documentation and implement things from important frameworks like ROS and Tensorflow.

How do you implement what you learned in MSR into your day-to-day work life?

When approaching projects at work, I am able to use techniques learned in the MSR program to analyze problems and figure out practical solutions. I also have built upon the programming groundwork laid in the MSR program.

What would you say to a prospective student considering the MSR program?

I would suggest having a solid background in computer science before joining the program. The less time you have to spend learning the basics means more time you can focus on learning how to apply techniques in robotics to actual projects. If you have free time before starting the MSR program, you should learn as much about Linux, Python, and C++ as possible.