Article written by Margie Gurwin, founder and principal of Content Creation Partners LLC, Robolliance Expert
About ten years ago, my family and I visited the Ford Rouge Plant in Dearborn, Michigan and took the assembly line tour. As we stood on a catwalk overlooking the production floor, the audio guide pointed out two gyrating robotic arms on each side of the moving track below. Named “Winker” and “Blinker,” the pair of robots was installing windshields. One arm lifted and positioned each heavy glass plate into place, while its companion swooped around the rim, installing the plastic, waterproof molding.
At the time, I found the robots’ names memorable because our six-year old son thought they were particularly funny. However, in retrospect, I think that Ford’s decision to present the robots to visitors using whimsical names was a strategic decision. Why? Because as “cool” as the robots seemed to those of us touring the plant, I believe that Ford was perhaps sensitive to community concerns regarding the displacement of human workers due to robotic automation. Naming the robots Winker and Blinker made them seem that much more “friendly.”
Ten years later, it’s now the security industry’s turn to experience the impact of robots, as a whole new category of robotic security solutions is suddenly coming to market. How quickly they become part of “the new normal” will partially depend on how readily the general public accepts and trusts them. Reasons for resistance will vary. As in any situation where robots replace human workers, there will be some concern about job losses. However, the perceived stakes are fundamentally different within the security market. Can robots be hacked? How reliable is their built-in intelligence? Are they safe to routinely interact with humans? Does their use pose any ethical issues?
The value that robots can bring to the security marketplace is tremendous. They are game changers, in every sense. Unlike industrial robots, which can improve manufacturing processes through efficiency, consistency and lowering overhead, security robots will potentially change the very nature of the product they are delivering. For example, a roving automated ground vehicle that patrols a property is far more than a security guard that doesn’t require coffee breaks. Beyond video surveillance capabilities, it can be outfitted with a huge range of sensors that provide a level of situational awareness not otherwise possible. These might include radiation and gas detectors, explosive residue detectors, acoustic processors of sound frequencies beyond human perception, and of course night vision and distance vision far beyond human capabilities. Robots can also overcome physical obstacles that humans can’t. They can deploy telescoping arms, or even fly. They can perform in dangerous or extreme conditions, and bear the risk of damage or destruction in ways not reasonable for their human counterparts.
With advantages like these, it seems that winning over public perception would be “an easy sell.” But what about those concerns?
Manufacturers of security robots are in the security business. Therefore, there is little reason to fear that security robots are any riskier or potentially dangerous than other technology-driven security solutions. As with any security device, its “hackability” is a function both of its design, but also making sure that it is deployed and managed by certified professionals following all proper protocols. Data transmission between robots and the network should always be encrypted and highly secure. Authorized humans should have the ability to immediately and remotely take control of robots on demand. Robots should be designed with sophisticated sensors that prevent any unintended contact or collisions. Appropriate limits should be built into robots’ maximum speed and force, based upon their intended use. And, manufacturers must be clear in defining the approved uses for their robots and make clear to customers that that these should not be violated. For example, robots meant for patrolling non-populated areas should never be used in areas where humans are present, even if it seems like such a use would be “safe.”
Of course, the new generation of security robots and their designed purposes vary just as much as human jobs do, and there are no universal answers to how “safe” or “reliable” they are. However, in general, the public should feel confident that manufacturers of security robots are performing due diligence in addressing these concerns. Education will be key to ensuring this message is clearly articulated, and forums like the Robolliance are here to help with that mission.
Now it’s your turn to do your part; please discuss the articles you see posted here, as well as any stories you see in the news or via social media, that demonstrate robots making a positive impact on security. The more visible these stories become, the easier it will be for such solutions to move toward the mainstream. And as that happens, we could all benefit from a safer world, courtesy of robots even cooler than Winker and Blinker.