TechDecisions sister site Security Sales & Integration introduced a new quarterly online feature in December called “Robolliance Corner,” offering exclusive articles and other content authored by sponsors of the Robolliance.
SSI is the security media partner of Robolliance, a forum for technology partners and industry experts in robotics, surveillance and security to advance the understanding and awareness of the autonomous robotics marketplace. Sharp Electronics Corp. (SEC) first introduced the forum at PSA-TEC 2016.
In this third installment of “Robolliance Corner,” six subject-matter experts provide responses to the following question, which examines current and future applications of robotics technologies.
How do you envision robotics for security and safety growing in the near term? Who might the early adopters and why?
Founder & President
As the capabilities of robotics continues to advance, those involved in security and public safety will come to recognize the increasing benefits of using such technology. I have believed this for some time, but it has taken longer than I anticipated.
Although public safety agencies have used robots for decades, they have not been so quick to adopt the newest technology. As in the public safety sector, private security requires real-time information in order to respond quickly because, in many incidents, time is of the essences. Time may impact life and death situations.
Time may also have a direct impact on losses in private security. Many private organizations have extremely professional and highly technical investigative offices but the ability to recover product or determine the perpetrator of a theft pales in comparison to stopping the loss before it happens.
The ability to identify that an unwanted event is occurring and being able to respond quickly can prevent a loss or at a minimum mitigate the effects. This is true in the world of physical security and cyber security.
The use of analytics in security cameras is just one technology that can do just that. There exists the ability for video surveillance systems to identify unwanted persons in areas that are off limits with the use of motion detection. But that is not where the technology ends. There are systems that contain analytical capabilities to determine suspicious events by understanding the nature of routine activity and that which is not. This can all be accomplished autonomously without human supervision and intervention.
There are video analytics that can identify when an object, such as a backpack has been left unattended and then activate an alarm. Currently the technology exists that provides for autonomous vehicles (robots) to patrol a predetermined area that can provide initial inspections.
In the very near future the capabilities of those patrol robots will be combined with the robots used by public safety bomb units and then integrated with camera systems equipped with analytics. Those robots will patrol a preprogrammed route, then take pre-determined actions to respond to events that are detected.
In this scenario of the near future, cameras will be connected to systems that have analytic capabilities that can identify an unattended bag. Once a possible unattended item has been identified, the robot in that patrol area will, without human intervention, respond to the item and begin the process of identifying the object.
This can all be integrated with the mass notification and public-address system so that persons located within that area can be directed away, beginning an evacuation. All this technology exists today. It only needs to be integrated and put into use.
It is not uncommon to read about incidents in which law enforcement uses a drone to follow or search out a suspect or try to find a lost person. The use of drones at the scenes of fires is becoming more commonplace. With those examples, it seems to me that the early adopters of this technology will continue to be public safety agencies followed closely by private sector security.
Shuttle Computer Group
Solutions Account Manager
The word “security” is now a catch phrase where both private and public sectors are selecting solutions focused on security. Robotics have aided security and safety in many ways. Drones are excellent for wide aerial surveillance, however, organizations may experience some integration challenges based on limitations imposed by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration).
On the other hand, unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) provide many security benefits such as the ability to patrol a specific perimeter, detect humans and locomotives in an unauthorized area, and alert responsible personnel of security violations.
I envision robotics in the near future being a collaborative effort of drones and UGVs. Both technologies provide their respective benefits, but it would be excellent to have all the capabilities merged into one solution.
So how about a drone that can also be functional as a UGV? My thought is that the growth of robotics and security will eventually be a morph of both technologies based on the market demands and trends. Let’s take a look:
Security guards and other personnel will always play an integral role in security and by extension the safety of people and infrastructure. The aim is not to replace humans with robots. The patrol capabilities and responsiveness that the robots offer allow enterprise organizations to augment human security personnel by increasing their ability to detect intrusive and risky activity. Particularly in situations considered life threating to humans, such as a terrorist or bomb threat situation, less human casualties will exist with robots performing these tasks.
In the event of casualty, a damaged robot can be replaced; while humans are irreplaceable. Thus, the aim is always to limit human exposure to danger.
It is an unfortunate trend that many of the recent security violations and threats were targeted at mass groups. Airports, corporate campuses, universities and stadiums are all wide, expansive spaces in need of ongoing security. Security is a challenge in these spaces because of logistical, situational and cost reasons and pose major vulnerability for the patrons, students and employees. Organizations with challenging surveillance needs are obligated to constantly evaluate and consider new solutions. These solutions need to work well with the organization’s existing platforms, in order to reduce cost and ensure a seamless integration.
Open Source and Integration
Security robots may improve the efficiency and functionality of the operation by continuously monitoring the perimeter. This monitoring can be done through intrusion detection and seamless integration with existing electronic security platforms.
Open source technology is very important to security and robotics because every organization’s operation and vertical are unique. The technology must be secure, while also being agnostic and versatile enough for easy integration.
Some of the early adopters of this technology would be the Transportation Service Administration (TSA), finance companies, manufacturers, universities, hospitals and government agencies such as the FBI and CIA.
These organizations are currently tasked with securing wide, expansive perimeters with large number of people in one location. The inherent security volatility of these systems require the assistance of robotics to leverage the human skillset.
With robots, information can be sent from a number of sensors deployed on the robot. These include navigation equipment, motion detection, microphones and biometric software and hardware, while a security personnel watches the real-time video data feed.
Many of these organizations have commenced testing of this technology. It would be interesting to see the final technology implemented and saving lives, while preventing threats.
Eric Morse, CPP
Senior Security Manager
Tasks, whether they are patrols or preventative maintenance activities, are routine for both safety and security professionals and are part of their daily work. For this reason alone there is a natural need for automation and robotics in both fields to help support and eliminate these dull, dirty or dangerous activities.
From a security perspective, ongoing patrols and checks of exterior fence lines, call boxes, landscaping and other checks could and should be done with robotics to free up resources for other tasks. There is a significant decline in the effectiveness of these activities as the frequency increases or environmental impacts such as cold or heat, rain or snow make it less and less appetizing for security officers to enter the environment to perform these checks.
Robotic units and unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) do not worry about these adversities and perform the same task, time and time again, as programmed regardless of the repetition or the conditions for which they work in. This increases the proficiency of their work and standardizes it so that it is done the same way each and every time. A win for the security operation, a win for the client they are working to protect, and a win for the security officer who is now performing other tasks that can be more meaningful, less dangerous and less impacted by the weather.
On the other side of the wheelhouse, safety would benefit with the introductions of robotics and automated UGVs to provide a safe work environment for their employees. Units with air monitoring equipment can monitor the environment for changes and report back to the security control center with information.
Sensors that monitor for oxygen, computable gas and other subsistence’s like chlorine can provide lifesaving advance notice that the air is not safe to breathe and that employees must shelter in place. This gives an advanced notice to security to turn off the air handlers in the building and to prevent employees from leaving until the air quality has returned to normal.
Other aspects of robotics in the field from a safety perspective is to monitor bulk chemical offloads to ensure that there is no release of the chemical during the transfer and to also have eyes and ears on the activity while it is occurring. If there is an issue, emergency response crews could be deployed rapidly to mitigate the situation and the robotic unit could be used to drag an individual away from the chemical plum to a safer area with fresh air.
Moving someone 20 feet out of a low oxygen environment to an area with a higher concentration of oxygen can make all the difference in the world in the event of a release of ammonia or nitrogen, which are both common chemicals used in several industries.
Who might the early adopters and why?
As an early adopter of a cutting-edge automated unmanned ground vehicle, I can say with confidence that early adopters will be from end users who have a core belief in continual improvement.
Change for the sake of change usually doesn’t end up moving the dial very much for anyone. However, change that is supported and aligns with the core value of the safety or security department has an everlasting effect on the development and success of the team.
As a believer in building a management system (such as ISO9001 or 28000, NFPA 1600 or Lean production systems), which has at its core belief in the “plan, do, check, act” principals, it is important that processes are defined and micro improvements to them are initiated by all participants within the department.
Continual improvement is the basis for all systems and is the end goal of the organization. Continual Improvement means nothing stays the same. Nothing is done “this way” because it has always been done “this way.” Continual Improvement means that change is good and the organization embraces change and looks for ways to improve its processes, programs, communication and policies.
It looks for ways to add additional value to eliminate waste and provide additional measures of safety and security to the workplace. Hence, robotics will in the future and in today’s market, add value to an organization, reduce waste and increase operational proficiency.
Departments and organizations with a deep desire to improve themselves and add value will ultimately seek out robotics to help develop their organization, save money, reduce waste and improve the customer service and their level of service as a whole. Those organizations that continue to “firefight” each and every day with no strategic approach to their programs or their management system will become more and more visible to their end customers as they demand more from their vendors, contractors and internal departments.
Robotics will become a delineator between organizations with a path to the future and those who have their foundations fixed with limited growth potential. Organizations, similar to nature, either grow or they die.
Robotics helps with the former. Robotics is here to stay and it is our job as innovators and managers to seek them out and see how they can be incorporated into our program to benefit our customers, our employees, and our shareholders.
Hudson Valley P-TECH
As Principal of Rockland BOCES’ Hudson Valley P-TECH, I regularly watch the news and engage in discussions with colleagues about the national spate of school gun violence. These tragic incidents continue to re-shape my role as a school administrator.
Today, we not only focus on academic pedagogy, but also balance our time, budgets and efforts on rethinking, evaluating and adjusting security measures to ensure the safety of our students and staff.
What security do we have now? How do we gain access to more advanced security to protect our school campus with discretion? Will our schools be forced to look differently at the future in order to be more secure? Can we provide advanced security in ways that will allow us to keep our collaborative school environment?
Robotics may provide some answers. Security robots allow end users to deploy cutting-edge technology to improve operational efficiencies, to safely and securely patrol large areas, and integrate seamlessly with existing security infrastructure. Financially speaking, robots may offer organizations a reduction in liability — and, even reduce worker’s compensation and insurance premiums — based on their increased usage.
These measures not only provide leaders with a means to protect our communities, but also serve as peace of mind when entering a particular space. However, can we take even more preventive measures with discretion to ensure our security?
As a school administrator, the media focus has been on student tragedy and our current and changing methods of protection. We thank our local law enforcement organizations and government agencies for their guidance and support as we continually drill and harden our school buildings and campuses.
Here’s the question I grapple with each day: “How can we provide the upmost protection and security without changing a climate that is intended as a safe space for learning, interaction and collaboration beyond the walls of our school?”
Co-Founder & CEO
The market for robotics in general has really evolved in the last few years.
Like most new technologies, robots and drones were initially deployed to provide solutions to “high risk” problems — particularly in areas where human health and safety were at risk. Early examples included nuclear reactor inspection or operations inside high temperature or gaseous environments where humans simply couldn’t work. Robots have been used in those applications for decades, but at extremely high cost.
What we’re seeing today is a massive reduction in the cost and complexity of robotic systems — to the point where nearly any job that has a risk of injury or death can now be cost effectively addressed with robots and drones. As customers become more familiar with robots for one task, they’re also learning to leverage them for other tasks they may not have considered before.
One example is the power generation industry. For years, humans scaled smokestacks and multistory natural gas piping structures as a part of regular facility maintenance inspections. Injury or death from falls was just an accepted risk of the job. With the introduction of drones and small vertical “crawler” robots, however, these inspections can now be performed remotely — and in many cases more accurately.
While the immediate result was a dramatic reduction in risk for inspectors, facility managers quickly realized there was no need to limit the frequency of robotic inspections. We’re now seeing both ground-based robots and drones being deployed on a permanent basis — using new imaging and sensing technology to constantly monitor operations, identify safety problems such as methane leaks before a catastrophic event affects the entire plant and surrounding community.
In the security realm, some of the earliest adopters have been facilities with very large footprints. Examples include highly populated areas such as malls and sports venues as well as more remote facilities such as solar power farms and refineries.
Historically, it has been very expensive to provide security for these facilities due to the number of security guards or fixed cameras required to effectively survey a large facility. Not to mention the difficult physical conditions within which the guards must work. Most robots are impervious to the environment, and new technology lets them re-charge themselves.
Again, though, it’s rare to see robots deployed for a single purpose. Security may be the driving factor in the initial deployment, but there is so much more they can do. For example, while watching for trespassers, drones at solar farms can use multispectral cameras to identify damaged panels. Or, mobile robots patrolling datacenters can identify overheating servers before a crash occurs.
Co-Founder & CEO
In most of the industry research done on the drone industry, the physical security vertical is completely ignored. This is especially surprising given that persistent security is one of the best use cases for drone systems. In fact, it is the use case that ushered in the first wave of fully autonomous and commercially available robotic systems in the world, well before self-driving cars and drone deliveries.
The early adopters of robotic aerial security systems are commercial and industrial facilities with elevated security needs: auto manufacturers, chemical manufacturing plants, data centers, mining operations and many more. The lion’s share of growth in this sector will come from autonomous systems and changing FAA regulations will soon allow companies to monitor and secure remote facilities with no human guards present.
Autonomous systems provider much faster response times because there’s no need to set up the drone, and the drones are already integrated with the existing security infrastructure at the facility — so it can get to a triggered alarm with no human input. There’s much lower risk with autonomy because security teams no longer need to manually fly drones with a controller which is statistically prone to accidents.
Finally, autonomous robotic aerial security systems are much smarter and safer for companies because they are equipped with artificial intelligence, which provide security teams with actionable insight in addition to situational awareness that is processed at the “edge.” Edge-based computing networks are ones where the system lives completely onsite and the data does not leave the facility to the Cloud where it is much more vulnerable to being hacked or stolen. These benefits will become apparent as security teams begin leaving behind their manual, hand-flown drone systems in favor of intelligent autonomous systems.
In order to perform autonomous missions in a large range of facilities and environmental conditions, robotic aerial security systems include a weather-proof drone and base station from which the drone takes off from, lands on, and charges on in addition to the software which gives the robotic system its intelligence.
Early adopters — a variety of large, outdoor commercial and industrial facilities — enjoy two overarching benefits for the systems. The first benefit is gaining situational awareness along large perimeters or within areas of the facilities that aren’t covered with cameras as most large facilities only have 10-20% camera coverage of their facility. The second benefit is force multiplication of their security staff — routine patrols of the facility and responding to the overwhelmingly false positive alarms can now be performed with autonomous drones.
These use cases provide a strong ROI for the early adopters and have been instrumental in driving strong early traction, but the industry is still facing regulatory hurdles.
In the United States, one of the biggest hurdles that commercial drones face is regulation from the FAA. The market leaders in the robotic aerial security space have already gotten waivers from the FAA to perform operations at night and to control multiple drones with just one operator, which are stipulations from Part 107 — the FAA’s rule on commercial drone operations.
One of the last and most coveted waivers that companies are still waiting for is permission to fly drones beyond visual line of site (BVLOS), meaning the drone can be flown with a remote operator located anywhere in the world.
BVLOS regulation will allow a new use case: sites that currently cannot afford manned security or extensive security infrastructure will now be able to operate totally unmanned systems from a remote global security operations center (GSOC). Large companies that have many remote facilities often do not have the security budget to have manned security at every location, or even adequate security infrastructure at those facilities (cameras/motion detectors/etc). These remote locations are still vulnerable to attack (e.g. power substations & data centers).
Robotic aerial security systems that can now be flown BVLOS will allow those companies to have situational awareness when and where they need them at all times without requiring human labor. Once we see these regulations shift, robotic aerial systems will become more pervasive as they can now provide compelling ROI for not only large industrial facilities, but also smaller ones that currently do not have sufficient security infrastructure.
At a time when the large majority of drones in use are flown manually by hand with remote controllers, it may seem at first glance that autonomous drone systems are a pipe dream that still have a long way to go before they become available to purchase and deploy.
In some cases, like widespread drone delivery systems, that holds true, but for robotic aerial security, that future is here now. These autonomous systems are already providing massive benefits to large industrial and commercial facilities with unparalleled capabilities for situational awareness, response times, and intelligence.
When the regulatory environment starts allowing BVLOS operations, these systems will gain value, capabilities and wide-spread adoption. That said, the market value for persistent security driven by autonomous robot aerial security systems is poised for tremendous growth. You might even say the sky’s the limit.
To learn more about security applications for robots and drones, visit Robolliance Expert Corner.