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Security robots: impervious to infection

In pandemic times, artificial security personnel offer a solution


June 30, 2020
By Colin Bodbyl


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Before security robots existed, movies portrayed them as gun-slinging, laser-shooting assassins, far superior to any human counterpart.

In reality, most security robots will not work outdoors, cannot outrun a human, and would not intimidate a small child. Security robot manufacturers have struggled to justify their price points and limited applications, but that could be changing due to COVID-19.

To be fair to security robot manufacturers, their products are intentionally unintimidating. In part, this is to avoid triggering people’s fears of a robot-controlled dystopian future. There are also legal liabilities associated with a product that could restrain or harm a human. It is understandable then, that when faced with this choice, manufacturers chose to pursue a product that users would feel was more like a friend or colleague than an enforcer.

Faced with the limitation of being unintimidating, robot manufacturers focused on more routine security related tasks that robots could complete inside a building. Some examples include patrolling hallways for open doors, making sure people are not in areas they should not be, or using AI to learn what is normal in an area and automatically alerting someone when something is not. These are all practical and useful features, but until recently, they could also be performed for free by the everyday staff who roam the average office space.

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COVID-19 has emptied out offices across the world — many employees now work from home and rarely visit the office, if at all. This has left properties vulnerable to the types of problems many took for granted before. Most people are unaware that, for good reason, many insurance policies restrict the length of time a property can remain vacant. With fewer people visiting the office, problems can go unseen for days. A door ajar, flooding, lone workers, and more are all liabilities that would rarely go unnoticed in the past.

Vacant buildings, of course, can be monitored by a guard, but guards are expensive and are most efficiently deployed when the hours they are required to work are predictable. In the case of COVID-19, it has become difficult for office managers to predict when employees will be in the office, with many allowed to come and go from the office whenever they like.

The unpredictable hours of vacancy combined with the simplicity of the tasks that are required to be completed each day has created a strong argument for using robots over human guards. Robots are billed at a monthly rate, regardless of how many hours they work, while guards are billed hourly. A robot working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is far cheaper than a human guard working the same hours. Where human guards are superior to robots is typically in their ability to deal with criminals or threatening situations, but in this case the responsibilities of the robot are far more mundane. Perhaps most important of all, robots are immune to COVID-19 and are not concerned about their own well-being.

The sudden change in people’s ability and desire to perform certain tasks that were once taken for granted has created an environment ripe for change. COVID-19 has forced people to change the way they live and the way they operate their businesses. Where the innovation curve may previously have moved to equip humans with more advanced technology, COVID-19 could move us to a whole new curve where humans are no longer part of the equation.

Security robots might not be what we imagined in the movies, but after enduring nearly a decade of uncertainty they might finally find their place in this strange new world.

Colin Bodbyl is the chief technology officer of Stealth Monitoring (www.stealthmonitoring.com).