Why Robotics Are Destined for an Array of Security Applications

Hear details from Cliff Quiroga who heads up a global team of researchers and engineers for the Sharp Robotic Business Development (SRBD) team.

Cliff Quiroga leads a global team of researchers and engineers as well as drives the business development and marketing activities of the Sharp Robotic Business Development (SRBD) team. Sharp is a founding sponsor of the Robolliance program, an initiative focused on ground-based security robotics. Below, Quiroga discusses the burgeoning market for robotics, a.k.a unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs), in security applications. 

What factors have come together making UGVs viable for security, risk mitigation and safety response?
There are three factors. No. 1, processing power. We no longer need to develop high-cost custom chip sets to manage many of the computing tasks required to operate robotics.  All it takes is a standard PC processor. No. 2, cost. Processing technology costs are on the decline, but so are sensing technology costs being used on UGVs. This makes the platform affordable. And No. 3, market readiness. We have a marketplace ready for new and advancing solutions. Over the next two years, I can see amazing advancements in ground-based autonomous vehicles or UGVs.

Since UGVs are basically computers with large amounts of processing power and storage capacity, the data and information collected by UGVs turns out to be extremely valuable for forensic investigation after an incident occurs. It’s on 24/7.  Video, audio and sensor information, gathered by UGVs, can be stored in databases for legal authorities and law enforcement to mine and review for investigations. 

What are some of the best applications for the devices currently?
Today they are the right fit for the three Ds of outdoor security tasks – dirty, dull and dangerous. Although autonomous cars driving on our public highways may be a decade away, UGVs are now well suited to accomplish safety and security missions for two reasons. Most security assignments are amazingly repetitive and as a result are especially boring for humans to perform. Boredom can be potentially dangerous if security lapses due to lack of attention. No. 2, those repetitive activities work extremely well for computer and robotic technology. Robots love routine. Combining a technology built for repetition with routine tasks, especially those that are inherently dangerous, makes sense. Using robotics mitigates risk.

Taking a longer view, identify some applications you foresee near-term and beyond.
Near future, moving from open expanse and distance of outdoor patrol to indoor. When we think of indoor space, we typically think of commercial real estate that has its limitations of obstacles, such as stairs, elevators or doorways. However, warehousing space is wide open and ripe for near-future UGV coverage. Internet sales and the associated need for pack-and-ship fulfillment is a great example of a burgeoning business with growing warehouses. Not only would UGVs be covering the security of indoor assets, but they could assist in the delivery of goods and wares.

In the future, you will see a shift from private to public spaces where people are omnipresent. Private space does not have the legislative demands like public space. Government oversight in the vast majority of public space is paramount and takes time for such technologies as driverless automobiles. The Department of Transportation and other entities associated with human protection and risk mitigation must frame how UGVs can and will operate in public.

The shift from private to public space could more easily occur in controlled environments that require minimal legislative reform. If we extend the security capabilities in this way, we could see UGVs helping in disaster relief situations carrying equipment or transporting people. Their role would be assistive and specialized as to be predictive to human co-workers.

How can UGV providers build curiosity, enthusiasm and ultimately market acceptance?
Curiosity begins with young minds. With STEM education and robotic club creativity popping up around the country, we can harvest the attention of K-12 children looking for mentorship and eventual career placement with companies who research, engineer, manufacture and sell robotics. Enthusiasm comes from just showing the product. There’s a high cool factor. Design a robot that does a single function in a most excellent way and you’ve captured their attention.

Market acceptance requires sustenance. Now that you’ve got their attention is the technology safe, reliable and proven over time with measurable results that define benefit? The answers have to be “yes” for the market to sustain.

Creating applications for safety and security comes with great responsibility. As with any new technology, there are companies making claims about UGVs they cannot keep.  High technology products are not simply devices to manufacture or maintain. Buyers should consider the reputation of the vendors claiming to provide those products. Look for highly reputable companies with a strong legacy in developing innovative technology products and a standing B2B history of technology support. As with any new technology, implementation and support are often the least talked about during the evaluation process and usually are the areas that cause the most issues after a sale.

Contrast UGVs and unmanned aerial vehicles. Are they complementary and will UGVs eventually move toward the consumer market as have UAVs?
In the short term, the biggest contrast is payload and useable hours – fly time versus drive time. Speed also comes into play. This leads to vastly different applications. UGVs and UAVs are complementary in providing situational awareness from varying vantage points. The data and optics they can collect provide a more comprehensive evaluation of a situation.

We saw decades ago the commercialization of remote control cars and UAVs followed this path. UAVs became inexpensive and easy to operate. Adding cameras boosted their appeal by giving operators a bird’s eye view.  What they lack is autonomy. UGVs are already there with autonomy. Sharp has the commercially available Cocorobo indoor floor cleaner, available in Asian markets, that is autonomous indoors for example. 

What are some of the value propositions for security integrators?
UGVs are not a commodity at this point. They offer something new for the security integrator toolkit that is money-making, while fulfilling gaps that exist for end-users.  Like computers in the ’80s and ’90s, the introduction of this technology to the client requires expertise and training. The middle man is highly necessary and should not be cut out. Consultancy is very important in adding value. Every job site must be designed and configured to the exact needs of the end user when it comes to automating labor intensive security tasks formally done by the human workforce.

Eventually every category becomes commodity. Robotics is a new category for security.  As it is commoditized, UGVs will enter into a more commercial space. That said, the security integrators who trail blaze today are primed to grow with the technology instead of miss out.

And value propositions for end users?
For end user it’s about security improvement and/or cost savings. Better to be both. Remember, it’s easy to get the end user enthusiasm. To consummate the sale, you have to solve a security problem and better yet save the organization money. If safety was not a corporate tenet, it must be today. The Information Age lets consumers know instantly whose been hacked, broken into, sabotaged and more. Those companies who innovate for the sake of safety can market that as a competitive advantage.

The money saved in security can be shifted to other essential needs of an organization without sacrifice. Too often freeing
monetary resources translates to a downgrade, but with robotics, like UGVs, you can have security on demand where and when you need it instead of overpaying or overinvesting in other technologies or manpower resources.

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