By John Ramos

SAN RAFAEL (KPIX 5) — Some unusual newly hired help at one North Bay gas station has customers feeling like they just stepped into a Star Wars movie.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said a puzzled Brian Henderson. “I mean, I guess it cleans the gas station or something?”

“I thought it was a garbage can. And then I saw it moving and with cameras,” said another customer.

What looks like R2-D2’s big brother rolling around at the San Rafael Shell station is actually the K5, a robot security guard produced by a Mountain View tech company called Knightscope.

At five feet tall and weighing 400 pounds, the K5 is covered with video cameras and sensors as it moves around in a predetermined patterned, keeping an electronic eye on the restrooms and car wash at the back of the station.

“You know, you’ve got Roombas and stuff like that,” said Henderson. “I guess now we’ve got, like, human-size automated security guards at the gas station. It’s…I don’t know!”

With its flashing lights and weird futuristic sounds, the K5 is a high-profile surveillance droid, constantly uploading video and even license plate numbers to a cloud-based server. It operates autonomously 24/7, occasionally heading to a charging pad for a quick lunch break.

At a product unveiling, the company’s CEO, Michael Santana Li, explained the concept.

“Our strategy is to give security guards and law enforcement professionals really smart eyes and ears for them to do their jobs more effectively,” said Li.

K5’s are starting to pop up at shopping areas and businesses around the country. They have collision avoidance sensors, but they are not perfect. One of them “drowned” when it missed some stairs and fell into a fountain while on patrol in Washington, D.C.

But mostly, they do the job they were built for: keeping an eye on humans, leaving them to wonder what the world is coming to.

Knightscope’s CEO dismisses the idea that the robots are meant to replace human workers. But they are being marketed as costing $6 to $12 per hour, a number that is easy for potential customers to compare to a minimum wage job.