Security Enterprise Services / Trends Column

How Robots Can Change the Guarding Industry

Robots serving as security officers are not a new discussion in our market

Well, if Google has a similar impact on guard services as it has had on business publications, like mine, look out Securitas, G4S, AlliedBarton, et al… or get on board with robots functioning as security officers.

Robots serving as security officers are not a new discussion in our market. In fact, the major goal of ASIS exhibitors is to not have their exhibit near the annoying robot booth. This is because ASIS attendees were sure to avoid being confronted (OK, greeted) by the robot, thereby causing collateral damage to their booth traffic. But when two of the world’s biggest technology development investors step into the ring, you should anticipate change. DARPA and Google have entered the market with clear ambition and purpose.

If you are unfamiliar with DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, their website informs:

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was established in 1958 to prevent strategic surprise from negatively impacting U.S. national security and create strategic surprise for U.S. adversaries by maintaining the technological superiority of the U.S. military.

Which is interesting, because President Eisenhower created DARPA right after the U.S. was strategically surprised by Sputnik. DARPA led the creation of the Internet. But the important point is that DARPA is designed to be independent of the rest of the military to more quickly innovate and respond to defense challenges.

Fast-forward to robots and DARPA’s Robotics Challenge 2013 Trials. If you are expecting the latest science-fiction movies to become reality, you will be disappointed, because the latest in robotics makes the show “Lost in Space” look advanced. As the program manager for the Challenge explained at a news briefing: “We’ve all seen science-fiction movies. And in science-fiction movies robots walk around quickly, they do nice things, sometimes not so nice, and in general they’re inside of action films.” A key goal of the Robotics Challenge is to identify the current state of the science and establish a real reference point.

And the winner? Team Shaft from Japan. Enter Google. This company of former Tokyo University top roboticists was among eight robotics companies acquired by Google in 2013. (Ironic that Google might pad their $360 billion market cap by winning the $2 million DARPA Challenge first prize.) Google also acquired Boston Dynamics, explaining only that “the company makes cool stuff” in media releases. Boston Dynamics mostly works with DoD funding for military projects. Most telling about how serious and big Google expects the robot market to become is who they have running it: Andy Rubin, the executive who oversaw the Android Operating System, which is now the most used OS in the world.

So, the investment, innovation and pace of change in robotics will accelerate and impact many markets, including security. On target is the $28 billion U.S. and $110 billion global security services market that this issue’s special annual report is primarily dedicated to (Marketline 2010 data). With two heavyweight investors, and Google being the one with more money, change is certain. So what is the current state of the security robotics market?

Denver-based Vigilant Company’s Vigilus MCP Robot was awarded the 2012 American Society of Industrial Security Accolades Award for “Security’s Best” and was called a “Game Changer.” Offering the ability to work 10-16 hour workdays and full ROI within a year, the technology would appear to offer a efficient and effective guard tour solution. Designed to cover large areas such as data centers, warehouses and convention centers in place of human security officers, it is not clear that  the adoption of robots is as robust as hoped, and Vigilus MCP has not yet changed the game.

At the recent CES (Consumer Electronics Show), a Silicon Valley start-up Knightscope introduced the K5 security robot, which will be ready for prime time in 2015. Knightscope is a security company, not a robot company. That may be important in how they approach the market. The K5 is equipped with cameras, sirens and is made of vandal-resistant materials you would find on subway cars. It can patrol an area for about $6.50 an hour and recharges by passing over a charging mat where it gets energy and uploads video and data.

Knightscope believes that the K5 will reduce crime by as much as 50 percent and will collect information that can be used to create actual metrics and reset insurance premiums based on actual incidents. As a deterrent, criminals will be motivated to find a K5-free environment in which to act.

The technology still has a long way to go. As Chris Taylor of Mashable noted, “(The K5) is less Robocop than a cross between Robbie the Robot and Paul Blatt, Mall Cop,” but ultimately automation, service improvement and cost reduction win. Is your enterprise considering using or currently using robots for security? Let us know at  


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