Security and surveillance are critical issues for any building or site, whether industrial, commercial or residential. Any breaches thereof can have not only serious consequences for the affected company, but for the greater community and economy as well. There is hardly any facility that is immune from the inherent security-related hazards and risks that are abound today.
Autonomous robots have an increasingly important role to play in ensuring secure facilities worldwide by means of surveillance and allied security measures. Security robots constitute a rapidly-growing niche in the robotics industry, itself growing immensely. It is estimated that the global security robots market will reach $74.5 billion by 2028, with an impressive compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15.5% between 2021 and 2028. This growth has been greatest in the commercial sector, out-pacing the use of security robotics by even the military sector.
Autonomous robots are a culmination of exponential advances in artificial intelligence (AI) in recent years, including those relating to machine learning (ML), computer vision (CV), sensor technologies and, of course, robotics. Their distant-sensing capabilities and multiple other attributes are proving to be a boon across the board for what they can achieve in terms of security. This article will provide an overview of these capabilities and attributes, as well as a reminder of the various ways in which any facility may be at risk of security breaches.
Security Issues Today
Security risks are a growing reality in today’s world, whether the breaches are physical or digital. There are myriad examples of security risks that exist in the industrial, commercial and residential sectors, including:
Breaches by people, possibly resulting in:
- Theft or robbery; e.g. the theft of copper and cables from substations for power generation
- Destruction of property, machinery or equipment
- Digital theft and cybersecurity threats in the form of hacks, viruses and other hostile interventions
- Industrial or commercial espionage by competitors
Breaches by wildlife and feral animals, such as packs of dogs, a particular risk at rural or remote worksites or facilities. This would be a major risk factor, for example, at solar farms, which are usually in remote locations and can extend over considerable acreage.
These breaches can equate to costly replacement losses for any company. That is why security-related risks need to be adequately risk-assessed and stringently mitigated. It is for that reason that autonomous robots are the new champions of security.
Autonomous Robots For Surveillance
An autonomous robot is a self-driving mobile robot that can evaluate and navigate a given environment independent of direct human intervention or control. These robots, including aerial drones, achieve their functionalities by using an interconnected and sophisticated ecosystem of sensors and cameras, ML and CV.
There are navigation-related capabilities that should be intrinsic to any autonomous security robot. These include being able to easily avoid obstacles, as well as the ability to navigate in different kinds of terrain and withstand extreme weather conditions. They must further have the ability to be easily deployed for patrols, as well as easily modified if the modification of patrol routes is needed. They should also be able to self-navigate to a charging station if and when so required.
The benefits of having these robots for surveillance purposes, particularly at large-scale facilities, are immense. Importantly, they can relieve human security personnel from being deployed in potentially dangerous environments performing tedious and repetitive work. As such, robots are able to work far longer and more cost-efficiently. They can also be used to complement and augment existing security teams, in what is known as ‘force multiplier capability’.
Autonomous robots can further possess an array of sensors, such as thermal sensors, infra-red devices, cameras and radars, including laser imaging, detection and ranging, (LiDAR) technology for solving customer-specific use cases.
Robots can be embedded with software that enables them to turn data into actionable information without heavy reliance on human inputs and remote judgement calls. This is important for autonomous robots used for security tasks at many facilities in that it allows them to go beyond performing only specific tasks. Yes, certain security-related tasks can be pre-ordained, such as monitoring prescribed perimeter routes. However, a suite of specific software-enabled skills can be embedded in a robot, from which they can then deduct further tasks and situation analyses, courtesy of ML and other AI capabilities.
A further benefit is that robotics will continue to reap other digital advances. For example, 5G networks are enabling robots to easily traverse even larger areas. Swedish electronics giant, Ericsson, is a strong advocate for how 5G will transform cloud-based robotics. It was already contending in 2016 that the far higher speeds, far lower latency and higher bandwidth capabilities of 5G (when compared with 4G) will mean that multiple-robot fleets on a commercial or industrial site will be able to communicate in immediate real-time and with exponential capabilities. That was in 2016, when 5G was yet to be rolled out commercially.
Ultimately, autonomous security robots have the ability to not only patrol surveillance areas, but also monitor, detect, report, and even investigate possible intruders or breaches to any installation’s perimeters. It should be added that these robots can still be operated remotely via operators or undertake all surveillance tasks themselves, or a combination thereof.
Delivering Security Insights to Operator's Fingertips
This is the scenario: robots and drones patrol the perimeters of an installation and collect high-quality data. This data is converted into actionable information through AI skills. This information is then relayed to the security operator through improved connectivity (i.e. 5G), allowing the operator to have all the information at their fingertips. This can be done entirely remotely, even from another country, thereby allowing for the facilitated monitoring of remote or rural facilities, such as substations and solar farms.
Looking forward, what is needed is a practical vision for a single hardware-independent platform through which asset owners can manage different kinds of robots and drones to perform regular patrol. Energy Robotics is providing such a platform now for industrial inspection purposes.
In conclusion, it is true that an investment in autonomous security robots is not a light one, however the provision to lease robots shifts these costs from capital expenditure (CAPEX) to operational expenditure (OPEX). They can be used to augment an existing security regime, or indeed be the principal conduits for surveillance and security management at any facility where security is a significant risk. And one should always remember this: as the technology advances exponentially, so too will its benefits.