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Robots in physical security – down the road, but still not close

Robots in physical security – down the road, but still not close
The use of industrial robots is already common practice in the manufacturing industry. Once limited only to science-fiction movies and expensive military projects, people can now encounter them in their very own homes.
The use of industrial robots is already common practice in the manufacturing industry. Once limited only to science-fiction movies and expensive military projects, people can now encounter them in their very own homes. The launch of the Roomba by iRobot is, perhaps, the most striking example of this.

Besides household chores, companies are also promoting the use of robots as a way to bring people closer together. Telepresence robots are designed to facilitate human interaction across vast distances. These often look like an “iPad on wheels”, where the user can control the robot via a mobile app or website, while a loud speaker and webcam allow for two-way communication between the robot operator and the person being talked to.

Delivery service is another common application for service robots. Currently, they are already being used in the military and in certain businesses like Amazon’s warehouses to carry heavy loads. They can also be found in digital hospitals where they travel down corridors, delivering supplies from storage rooms to the wards, and clearing waste. The robots are also capable of transporting special containers weighing up to several hundred kilograms, freeing up personnel, and resulting in an overall increase in hospital efficiency.

Robotic guards to enhance security
Telepresence and autonomous robots are also becoming increasingly relevant for the physical security industry and are gradually penetrating the market. a&s had already reported on several examples of service robots being used for security purposes. One is the Knightscope K5, a robot designed to patrol malls, campuses, and parking lots, replacing the need for human security guards.

Another was launched in late 2014 by Magal Security Systems. RoboGuard is a robot that can assist in perimeter security. It travels on a monorail along the fence and inspects it for breaches. Not only that, the robot is also equipped with short-range and PTZ cameras as well as laser sensors to ensure the integrity of the fence and detect any anomalies or movements up to a distance of 20 to 30 meters. A two-way radio was added to facilitate communication.

This robot was primarily designed for remotely monitored, unmanned sites and critical sites such as airports, seaports, military bases, and prisons. RoboGuard allows for constant monitoring and patrolling along the perimeter fence; thus, replacing human patrols and freeing up security personnel to take care of verified alerts. In addition, it can patrol in harsh weather conditions and doesn’t suffer from boredom like manned guards.

Making robots smart through AI
One benefit robots have over stationary cameras and sensors is their ability to actually move around and explore, instead of just passive monitoring. However, despite their benefits and efficiency, they remain an extension of the human operator.

Will the industry ever reach a stage where robots can make their own decisions and not just transmit data to a control room? Enter artificial intelligence. By allowing robots to connect with artificial intelligence platforms, they can gain the ability to understand their environment and make decisions independently.

IBM has collaborated with Hilton hotels to pilot the first hotel robot concierge, Connie, which is named after the chain’s founder. It actually acts as an interface between the hotel guests and IBM’s Watson computer systems. The robot records the questions and transmits it to Watson, which would process it, search relevant databases, and relay the obtained information back to Connie. Utilizing this system, the concierge robot can greet and answer questions from guests on a variety of topics such as hotel offerings, operation hours, amenities, and services.

Security applications
In shopping malls, robots can potentially assist security guards with dealing with requests for assistance and directions from visitors in the facility. In addition, robots equipped with cameras and other sensors will be able to patrol and monitor perimeters and facilities and use analytics to identify any anomalies or security breaches.

Once a breach or hazard is detected, the robot can also initiate the right sequence of operations, for example, by sounding an alarm and notifying a human operator. The benefit of artificial intelligence will be that the system can learn from its mistakes and correct them; thus, continuously improving its performance.

However, it is quite probable that robots will not be equipped with video analytics anytime soon. This is because most video analytics applications construct and maintain the background of the scene during analysis. As such, it cannot be easily adapted to mobile units that continuously generate dynamic scenes. Additionally, the algorithmic requirements for mobile units are also much greater than that for stationary cameras; therefore, requiring significantly greater computing resources.

However, compared to other unmanned platforms like drones, robots are better equipped to deliver this capability. Although dependent on size, robots are more capable of housing all the components needed to power and process camera video feeds for video analytics.

Promising, but not quite there yet
Although the applications listed are very promising in nature, there are still some things to work on. The use of smarter robots will be a paradigm shift for the industry that will be forced to update the way it thinks and works in many different aspects from ethics to operations and design.
Robots will also impact the working environment, replacing many human guards and changing the way people and their robotic co-workers will interact. The industry will also have to take into account how robots interact with other systems such as access control and building management systems. Unlike human employees, robots can't swipe access cards or press elevator buttons. New application program interfaces (API) will have to be developed to communicate with robots and additional effort will be needed to enable robots to work with existing systems which were designed without robots in mind.
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