Can public-area mobile robots help you save money and maybe even save lives?
Author: Lee St James, URF Managing Director November 15, 2023
If you operate a public facility such as a school, airport, mall, park or hospital, how do you currently monitor the safety and security of both people and property on your site? How much do you pay for your existing surveillance and security solutions? Are they as effective as you would like?
If you are a municipal leader in the public works department or police services board, what challenges do you have with safety, surveillance and security patrols? Have you considered how mobile robots could help city staff and police officers with deterring vandalism and crime prevention? Or expediting emergency response?
OUTDOOR SECURITY and INSPECTION:
California-based SMP Robotics is a global leader in manufacturing and deploying autonomous mobile robots for outdoor security and inspection. With distributors from Japan to Dubai and Australia to Germany, SMP robots are used around the world for security and inspection across large facilities like theme parks, chemical plants, solar farms, and industrial facilities. Their robots are generally used only among trained personnel and on private property, but they recently launched a pilot project with a high school in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to explore the potential for their robots to help keep schools safer.
Shark Robotics, based in France, designs and builds autonomous robots for use in fire safety and for bomb disposal (EOD), among other use cases. Boston Dynamics' Spot and Atlas robots are engineered to perform basic but potentially life-saving tasks in dangerous conditions: flipping switches, shutting off valves, opening doors, etc. Deep Robotics X20 Hazard Detection Rescue Solution, a quadruped robot 'dog' is capable of toxic gas sensing, and can be used to transport rescue materials and equipment to assist in rescue missions.
PUBLIC SAFETY and SPECIAL EVENTS:
Illinois-based Pringle Robotics recently collaborated with Ottonomy.io and the Peoria Police Department, the city of Peoria and local businesses to test a use case for robots to support public safety at their Fourth of July fireworks event. "We’re collaborating ...to deploy two OttoBoTs ...[to] assist the police with safety patrols, provide a deterrent presence, and distribute water to event-goers. Here is a local news report on the pilot project.
DETER, DETECT and DEFEND:
In August 2021, the Security Industry Association (SIA) hosted a webinar titled: Automating Security: Real-World Examples of How Robots and Drones Deter, Detect and Defend. "Drones and robotics are among the most exciting – and potentially most impactful – emerging security technologies. These automated systems serve as force multipliers to security personnel, with onboard cameras and other sensors providing new levels of situational awareness that enable faster and more effective responses."
"Robots have captured the imagination of security directors for decades — dating all the way back to the very first mobile robots in the mid-1960s." Travis Deyle, Cobalt Robotics
Using robots and enabling technology to improve surveillance and security is not a new idea.
Knightscope Robotics, based in Silicon Valley, recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. It was founded in 2013 with a mission to make the USA the safest country in the world. While a 2021 article on NBC news seemed skeptical of the tangible benefits, Knightscope went public on the NASDAQ in January 2022. In September 2023, the mayor of New York City announced a 2-month pilot program with Knightscope's K5 robot. According to this article, it is being used from 12midnight to 6am in the subway system. This October 2023 article includes a photograph of the robot - branded with a NYC Police logo -getting some positive attention from passers-by.
In February 2023, ResearchandMarkets.com released a new report on the Global market for Security Robots. Their report covers a broader scope than PMRs (URF's focus) - by segmenting the market according to aerial, ground and underwater vehicles, as well as a breakdown by hardware, software and services. Enabling technologies and robot-as-a-service solutions are key to deployment and growing the industry. The five application areas in their report provide good context for the evolution of the industry:
Patrolling & Surveillance
A May 2020 article by Security Sales & Integration, written by Dr. Travis Deyle, co-founder and CEO of Cobalt Robotics, provides an in-depth review of what they refer to as "Robosecurity". Of particular note, the idea of a human security guard being used for 'observation and reporting' seems antiquated in the face of recent advances in technology. According to the article: "Modern sensor technology has far surpassed human sensing. Mount those sensors on a mobile robot and have robots share data with one another, and you’ve created one of the most effective observation and collections platforms imaginable. You can obtain verifiable, unambiguous data about what occurred at any given time without resorting to manual data entry or logging."
Indoor security cameras are now quite common. But what about using robots for indoor security? According to a 2022 report by Forrester, using a robot guard vs. a human can save a company $79,000 per year (as quoted in this article by Axios).
Cobalt Robotics was among the first to develop systems that can open and close doors, press elevator buttons, etc. Cobalt’s robots use AI and machine learning to detect anomalies — anything from unidentified people, motion, unusual sounds, open doors, leaks, spills, hazardous gases, overflowing trashcans, unattended devices, unlocked computers, suspicious packages, dirty whiteboards, medical emergencies, etc.
Oregon-based Daxbot is another player in the market. "Keeping customers safe is a challenge with growing crime rates and labor shortages. Our robots use "invisible paths" to monitor pre-set routes or areas; mobility, IR, a live video feed, and pattern recognition are some tools they bring to the table. Dax robots continuously stream video and audio back to their home bases. "
According to Euronews, Zurich-based robotics start-up Ascento was pilot testing a two-wheeled patrol bot in Switzerland earlier this year. "Amid labour shortages and growing attention to safety, security companies around the world have been looking to deploy robots on patrol duty. ... people living in Switzerland have been seeing an autonomous two-wheeled robot roaming around the country for the past six months. The patrol bot, developed by a robotics start-up from ETH Zurich, Ascento, has been acting as a guard for Swiss security firm Securitas AG."
Of note, this video provides a quick demo and acknowledgement that Ascento was able to develop their prototype quickly using Formant.io's cloud platform. Formant, based in San Francisco, recently closed a $21M financing round to support their goal of serving as the data backbone to power large-scale robotic fleets and accelerate company growth.
Other notable companies that offer enabling technologies for security robots are:
Hong Kong-based Molekiu offers a new cloud platform they call "RoboGuard" to facilitate robotic patrolling solutions - even those robots not originally designed for security purposes.
Seoul Robotics offers computer vision software that uses deep learning AI to create highly accurate 3D models of the world in real-time.
CALL TO ACTION:
The Urban Robotics Foundation is publishing a series of Municipal Guides to Public-area Mobile Robots to help stakeholders better understand the importance of preparing for this technology in public spaces and our urban ecosystems. We begin with an Executive Guide and Discovery Guide in January 2024. We invite you to pre-order your FREE copy of the Executive Guide today by clicking this link.
We provide this research to help build awareness of how public-area mobile robots are being used globally. We are a non-profit organization that is focused on education, standards-writing and vendor-agnostic advisory services. The information presented above does not constitute an endorsement for any of the vendors mentioned. We rely on annual member dues to support our work and invite you to join URF today. https://www.urbanroboticsfoundation.org/member-benefits