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UGVs may take off faster than UAVs

Drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have become an icon of the future. The possibilities of what drones could do are endless.

June 19, 2018  By  Colin Bodbyl

Entire industries could be turned on their heads by UAVs that are capable of completing tasks cheaper and better than humans. Technology fans the world over are praising drones and working tirelessly for the opportunity to incorporate  them  into  their businesses. Yet while drones receive nothing  but positive attention from the technology and security industry alike, unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) are receiving the opposite reviews.

UGVs are only different from drones in that they drive on the ground rather than fly through the air. Both products use similar technology to automatically detect obstacles and navigate complex scenarios. Both operate  on batteries, are relatively quiet, and require frequent charging. Technically, they are not that different, but for some reason UGVs have been shunned by the drone community. In reality those who are too quick to judge these devices could be missing out on opportunity only because they have misjudged the technology.

UGVs have one distinct benefit over their flying cousins: they have little or  no legal regulations, particularly on private property. Aerial drones on the other hand are severely restricted by legal regulation. Licensing, line of sight requirements, restricted air spaces, etc. all create barriers to adoption that could delay the wide-spread commercial deployment of drones for years to come. UGVs, on the other hand, can operate autonomously on private properties without any special licensing requirements.

UGVs have a unfair advantage in the autonomous vehicle race, so why are we not seeing more of them? One reason is because some manufacturers  have  not  managed expectations well. Rather than focusing on simple tasks such as delivering packages, robot manufacturers are attempting to entirely replace humans with their first prototypes. These lofty goals have set expectations so high that they will be nearly impossible to achieve.


The traditional mall security guard has a complex job, navigating pedestrians, recognizing suspicious behaviour, and chasing off would-be criminals. Yet this is the first job some robot manufacturers believe their robots can complete. Unfortunately, time has proven this is difficult to achieve. Would-be thieves do not run away from slow moving robots. Robots are not intimidating and don’t offer the sense of security that a human guard does.

Since the value of a guard replacement robot is not obvious, it becomes difficult to generate positive media around the success of such devices. Instead, the press focus on the odd failures of them crashing or running into pedestrians because those are the only noteworthy events occurring around the product.

While the sentiment about UGVs may be negative, the reality is that they have a bright future that will prove many wrong. Those who have  deployed  UGVs  correctly have experienced incredible success. Amazon warehouses use UGVs to move millions of pieces of inventory. UGVs are being used in the safety and security space to tour parking lots, looking for flagged licence plates through the use of licence plate recognition. In  other  cases,  UGVs  tour  dangerous areas where a lone security guard could be at risk. These are all valid applications of UGVs and while they might not garner the same attention as a robot roaming the mall, at least they succeed at achieving their objectives.

UGVs have the benefit of being first to market and could take advantage of the  opportunity to get a head start on UAVs. To be successful, though, they must focus on achieving realistic  goals. For those adopting the technology, it will become increasingly important to be open-minded to the possibilities of success rather than focusing on the less common failures.

The security industry will undoubtedly be changed by both UGVs and UAVs; those who recognize the early benefits of UGV products will ultimately win in the end.

[Editor’s Note: For more on UGVs and their applications in the security industry, see SP&T News’ March 2018 cover story.]

Colin Bodbyl is the chief technology officer for UCIT Online (www.ucitonline.com).

This article originally appeared in the May 2018 issue of SP&T News.

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