What’s the Deal With Flashing Blue Lights on Towers in Fred Meyer Parking Lots?

Those goofy towers are quietly taking over the world.

What’s the deal with those goofy-looking towers with the flashing blue lights and solar panels in Fred Meyer parking lots? I gather that they’re some kind of security camera, but why not just plug them in to the same power the overhead parking lot lights use? —Insecurity Officer

They may look like an offshore drilling rig got a little bit too drunk in a hotel room with the Mars Polar Lander, but actually those goofy towers are quietly taking over the world. Cumulatively, the LiveView Technologies D3 (“Detect! Deter! Defend!”) already casts its Orwellian pall over an area twice the size of Multnomah County, and the company is growing at a rate of 30% a year.

For the record, the D3′s ostentatiously post-apocalyptic appearance is intentional. Wrongdoers, the theory goes, won’t do wrong if they know they’re being watched—and whatever you may think of a giant robot camera covered in flashing blue lights, even the most hopelessly stoned criminals probably find it hard to miss.

And if they do miss it, there’s a two-way loudspeaker! I’ve never seen it in action (although I’m dying to), but apparently a D3 operator can get on the speaker like RoboCop: “Please return the unpaid Mallomars. You have 20 seconds to comply.” (Of course, this only works if someone is actually watching the feed, which—ahem—is exactly the same problem regular security cameras have.)

Anyway, none of this explains why the D3 needs to be solar-powered. Do they really think the guy sticking Mallomars down his pants is part of some Ocean’s Eleven-style heist crew that would just cut the power to a conventional security system? (“Dammit! They’ve got solar backup—abort!”) Solar clearly adds to the cost—why do it?

Maybe because sometimes it’s easier for a bureaucracy to spend a million dollars than to make a decision. Sure, you could wire up your own cameras for a few hundred bucks—but first you’ll need a plan for where to wire them up. And before that, you’ll need a procedure for making the plan, etc.

Far better, then, to rent huge robots that don’t have to be plugged in anywhere in particular. (They get their power from the sun and their connectivity from the cellular network.) Then you can just leave them wherever they land, with no plan at all!! Sure, it’s $3,000 a month per robot—but what’s that among friends (and/or shareholders)?

Questions? Send them to dr.know@wweek.com.

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