10 Advantages – and 5 Downsides – of Autonomous Security Robots
Beyond financial considerations, how can robotics improve security services? What concrete benefits should security companies expect from the use of autonomous robots, and what added value do they provide their customers?
Since no technology – not even robotics – is perfect, let's start with the disadvantages.
The 5 disadvantages of robots
1. Humans fear robots
Although this has nothing to do with robotics per se, it must be taken into account. Upon closer examination, we see that basically robots inspire two types of fear: firstly, that they could take over the world, and secondly, that they might take over our jobs.
a. Robots might dominate the human species
The first fear of robots boils down to one sentence: "What if robots took control of our world and enslaved us?"
Actually, as Kevin Kelly explains in Wired Magazine, the idea of a soon-to-be "super-intelligent robot" that will walk, talk, and think better than humans is based on a myth.
“What I object to is this assumption that we will leap to some kind of super-intelligent system that will then make humans obsolete,” says John Giannandrea, who leads AI at Google. “I understand why people are concerned about it but I think it’s gotten way too much airtime. I just see no technological basis as to why this is imminent at all.”
This fear is bound to subside, as robotics become increasingly present in our everyday life, with household robots, medical, industrial, on production lines, not to mention airports, banks, and hotels.
As we get used to the presence of robots in everyday life, we increasingly see them as “mere” machines that are, yes, sophisticated, but not that threatening:
“There is no known path from our best A.I. tools (like the Google computer program that recently beat the world’s best player of the game of Go) to “general” A.I. — self-aware computer programs that can engage in common-sense reasoning. ” (NYT)
b. Robots will steal our jobs
One of the first macroscopic research on this issue, carried out by Uppsala University and the London School of Economics in 17 countries, has shown that:
- between 1993 and 2007, robots have helped increase the GNP of countries surveyed by 10%.
- in these same countries, robotics would have had a similar effect on general productivity as the steam engine between 1855 and 1910, i.e. a 0.35% yearly increase.
- Robust economies, e.g. Germany and Sweden, have not yet observed the apprehended job losses: Germany invested about three times more in robotization than the United States, yet manufacturing jobs declined by 33% in the US and 19% in Germany.
- On the whole, it seems that robots have the effect of increasing productivity rather than eliminating jobs.
Of course, this can be questioned. For example, Kai-Fu Lee, chairman and chief executive of venture capital firm Sinovation Ventures, and president of its Artificial Intelligence Institute, speculates that AI “is poised to bring about a wide-scale decimation of jobs — mostly lower-paying jobs, but some higher-paying ones, too.”
In the specific case of the security industry, however, nothing indicates an imminent sweeping movement towards robotization.
For the time being, autonomous security robots are seen as “force multiplier:” sophisticated tools that security services can use to deploy extra eyes and ears on the ground, in areas that would otherwise be too difficult — or too expensive — to guard with standard security patrols. They also replace humans in a number of “dull, dirty and dangerous” tasks.
Finally, two factors are worth noting:
- We are getting accustomed to robots — so accustomed, in fact, that it seems that customers hardly notice those that have been deployed in 50 or so Walmart outlets.
- The “focus of fear”, so to speak, is shifting from robots to AI.
2. Robots have limited capabilities
Of course, robots can “see” better and “hear” better than humans — at 360˚; they don’t get tired (at least between recharges); they don’t get bored, and; they detect anomalies more efficiently than humans.
What we need to understand, though, is that robots are not "intelligent", at least not in the way we usually understand it.
For example, Alpha Go, the world’s robot champion of Go, does not “know” it is playing a “game,” and it could never tie its opponent’s shoe laces (one example of a simple task that still eludes automation.) It is a sophisticated, highly specialized series of algorithms.
In other words, despite their capabilities in terms of object recognition and navigation, autonomous robots have for example zero ability to react to unforeseen events. Which brings us to the next point.
3. Robots (still) need humans
Robots are great at detecting problems and anomalies. They can report problems and sound alarms to scare away intruders, but once that is done everything is in the hands of humans.
(Some security robot manufacturers imply that their machines can pursue intruders. However, this implies an entirely different approach and involves complex security and legal issues.)
Their main asset — hyperspecialization — makes autonomous robots dependent on team work to be effective. As a corollary of Point 2, your robot must therefore be part of a team to be effective. The very quality of this integration is a guarantee of success, as we will see in a future article on change management.
4. Robots lack the... human touch
Given their artificial nature, we can hardly blame robots for this shortcoming. In fact, it should reassure us. Although 25% of Millennials say they would “replace a human lover with a droid” such romances are still the stuff of movies, as in the romantic science-fiction drama film Her.
Once more, this shows that "autonomous" robots do need humans to do their job correctly.
5. Robots have bad days, too
We humans have our difficulties, but certain mornings robots just don’t work. Even though electric propulsion eliminates many mechanical problems, no machine is entirely immune from malfunctions, not to mention update management, interoperability issues and other problems that may require occasional troubleshooting.
The important thing is to check the reliability of the model you are considering, and to ensure you receive flawless technical support.
Now for the positives.
The 10 advantages of security robots
Note that we are talking here about the surveillance of exterior and interior areas that are either private or closed to the general public, such as critical infrastructure sites, industrial sites, utilities, military facilities, corporate campuses, parking lots, and airports.
1. Always “on,” robots are impervious to the weather
Let’s start with four great qualities robots have as security guards:
- Their vigilance never falters, even when performing the most repetitive tasks.
- They are always ready to react within a millisecond, even after hours of operation.
- As long as their batteries are charged, they keep on going – immune to the lure of coffee breaks, meals, snacks, or connected technologies.
- Within extreme ranges of temperature, the weather has no effect on them.
The first point is particularly important, since human attention varies considerably depending on the person, time of day, degree of motivation, hours of sleep, etc.
Research has shown that after 20 minutes 95% of what happens on the screen eludes the average security video viewer. Your robot, however, can pursue this task for hours or days on end, without its attention failing for a split second.
As Renato Cudicio, president of TBC-France, explained in an interview, "A security guard will usually do a twenty-minute round and then return to the control room where he will monitor the cameras. A robot can navigate a warehouse 24/7, doing the same round over and over, without ever getting bored or tired."
2. Robots act as a force multiplier
Let's take a closer look at what makes robots more efficient in terms of security.
An autonomous outdoor robot such as TBC-France’s JACK helps increase the potential of security teams, thanks to advanced technologies such as:
- Integrated video analytics (human detection)
- Transparent integration with security systems such as Genetec and Milestone (ONVIF standard)
- Encryption of transmitted and embedded data (1TB)
- An infrared HD PTZ camera (night: up to 100 m) and 8 HD cameras for 360° vision (night: up to 60 m)
- Wireless video and sound 4G, Wi-Fi, or Mesh transmission
JACK’s "hearing" is excellent, and can discern objects within 10 m better than humans, and carry out verifications at a lower cost than human patrols.
Depending on the needs, one can also have:
- An infrared camera to "see" at night and through fog and smoke
- Directional microphones that detect unusual noises
- A thermal camera
- Flame or smoke detectors
- Temperature, gas, or radioactivity sensors
All this is of course coordinated and "interpreted" by embedded AI that JACK can use, with the appropriate software, to:
- Navigate on his own once he has "learned" his round
- Get around obstacles
- Analyze the video stream
- Detect anomalies
- Read licence plates
Security guards in the control room can take advantage of the physical capabilities of their "assistant" to oversee larger areas.
Merged into a single mobile, standalone device, such advanced technologies increase the capacity of security services to detect intrusions and anomalies in locations that fixed cameras cannot reach.
Their apparently random rounds also make surveillance robots much more difficult to avoid than cameras.
What about the UAV + UGV combination ?
The idea of combining terrestrial and aerial drones for “seek and pursuit” actions, certainly looks good in a video.
However, can such a combination actually make a security team more efficient?
"Using both aerial and terrestrial drones seems promising to us, and in the long term we plan to add an aerial component to our range of monitoring tools,” explains Renato Cudicio. “For the moment, however, we believe that a number of technical aspects, especially with respect to the integration of ground and air technologies, still need to be fine tuned, and that certain issues, such as training, regulations, and insurance coverage, need to be addressed."
3. Robots can act as deterrents
The simple presence of a security robot with video monitoring that can detect an intrusion and announce itself by means of loudspeakers, or even sirens, helps keep intruders away. (Although one experiment showed that the mere presence of a robot did not have a deterrent effect on minor crimes, researchers believe that a robot that "reacts", that is, sends a clear signal, in the face of an intrusion, for example, helps to prevent not only "situational crimes", that is, opportunistic crimes, but also more serious threats.)
4. Robots reduce risks for humans
The robot can serve as eyes and ears for human agents by replacing them in difficult, boring or dangerous environments.
In the event of a physical threat, robots can take human agents out of immediate danger, so that they can concentrate on their intervention without having to worry about protecting themselves. A spectacular demonstration to this effect was when robots shot videos in one of the extinct reactors at the Fukushima power station.
5. Robots are identical
All identical robots react rigorously in the same way to the same commands. Having no specific personality, they can differ neither in their type nor in their reaction times. This means that once a user has learned to operate a particular model of robot they can use the same skills for every other similar machine.
6. Robots are constantly improving
Ongoing research is continuously improving both robotics hardware and software, and updates make for continuous improvements. The better-performing platforms are being designed with regular updates in mind. Of course, the rental business model — Robot as a Service (RaaS) — means that users don’t need to worry about ending up with a machine that is discontinued or no longer upgraded or supported.
7. Robots are incorruptible
Robot are not likely to be seduced, nor can you convince them to turn a blind eye while you pick a padlock. This is the upside of Downside # 3: their capacity for human interaction is limited, and they strictly enforce the rules they have been programmed for.
8. Robots could help address many current industry issues
In a largely labor-based industry, robots could iron out several current challenges, including:
- Turnover rates up to 100% — even 200% and 400% in some cases
- Recruiting competent and motivated people
- Increasing requirements
Robotics could help attract more candidates...
In an industry that suffers such heavy turnover, robotics offers a double advantage: first, the potential to attract a new type of candidates; second, help overcome potential labor shortage problems.
The younger generation, and...
Generations X and Y represent more than half of the current potential workforce. We can assume that for this age group, which has always been immersed in technology, the idea of working with “terrestrial drones,” or of controlling entire fleets of robots, could have a greater appeal than traditional guarding activities.
The constant and rapid evolution of robotics also promises interesting prospects for development and professional growth.
… More women
To the extent that they reduce the physical risk to security guards, robots could open the field to a greater number of women.
9. Robots could have a positive effect on the image of the industry and its precursors
It is still too early to say for sure, but one could assume that autonomous robots could help modernize the image of the security industry.
Companies who take the lead will affirm themselves as leaders, innovators, and it's a safe bet that they will attract the attention of the media, which could lead to inquiries from potential customers.
10. Robots could help generate savings
Even though this article focuses on the qualitative potential benefits of using robots to improve security services, the financial aspect is of course an essential one.
Basically, any added value robots offer would derive from the advantages their usage could offer in terms of improved efficiency and perceived benefits to clients.
Some will argue that a robot costs less than a security guard, but one can easily object that this is like comparing apples and oranges.
In some respects, as we have seen, robots are far superior to humans, even though they cannot replace humans, for example, in lending someone a hand or catching an intruder.
The key will be to find the optimal balance between agents and robots.
Savings… and maybe more
According to the Robolliance website, robots could reduce the number of claims and lower insurance premiums by triggering early alerts in case of leakage of hazardous substances and by reducing theft, vandalism, or forced entries.
Greater operational efficiency could also lead to increased margins. Steve Reinharz, founder and managing director of Robotic Assistance Devices (RAD), distributor in America of SMP Robotics products, believes that security services — which are traditionally cost centers — could even leverage robotics and artificial intelligence to generate tangible, if modest, revenues.
As with many technologies that looked like science fiction before they become part of our everyday lives, we will gradually get used to interacting with robots, and with robots interacting with one other. It may even happen faster than we think.
In the security industry, the integration of humans and robots will support functional and operational developments that will help security companies expand their services, while responding more effectively to daily security needs and requirements.
Luis Robert | Analyst