Forget Robo-Cop, Here Comes Robo-Security Guard

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Vigilus' appearance probably won't scare the bad guys, but its top award at American Society for Industrial Security conference should.

You know those movies where the thieves wait until the security guard falls asleep to break into the art gallery? Well, those days are over, now that the Vigilus robotic security guard has been launched.

The security robot from Vigilant Robots doesn’t get tired, doesn’t get bored, doesn’t constantly check Facebook while guarding a company’s assets. What Vigilus did do was perform so well it took home the ‘Security’s Best’ award at this year’s American Society for Industrial Security conference.

Looking more like an R2-D2 with cameras than Robo-Cop, Vigilus is designed to monitor areas normally patrolled by security guards – shopping malls, warehouses, event centers. But this isn’t a case of robots stealing our jobs, at least not yet. The robots will simply augment human security presence, allowing for greater coverage.

After being given a digital map of their location, Vigilus will patrol autonomously for up to ten hours, the life of its battery. It’s pretty good at getting around, moving easily over the thresholds and carpets commonly found in professional buildings. It responds to both voice and radio commands. Important sites in the area are specified by the client so that, in the case of an incident, the robot understands, “Go to the loading dock.” And as customer needs change often, the Vigilus’ maps can be changed easily and inexpensively. It’s monitored and controlled from a command console. From there, clients can track the robot’s location in real time, enter patrol commands and location vocabulary.

The day will probably come when we arm some of our security robots...but that day is still a ways off yet.

Its security capabilities are flexible as well. A suite of IP-ready devices provides clients with high-definition cameras, access control devices, different types of sensors including infrared, and other monitoring tools that a client would need. If it encounters an incident such as an intruder in a restricted area, it sends an alert over encrypted Wi-Fi so its human colleagues can mobilize to the scene.

Despite Vigilus’ warm reception at the ASIS, it’s hard to argue that the robot represents a groundbreaking idea. I mean, just strapping a camera to Roomba would already be a big step up in monitoring, say, at an art gallery. But if the idea of a roving security bot isn’t innovative, making it affordable is. In order to keep costs down – and clients interested – Vigilant Robots intentionally sourced almost all of their components from Colorado where the company is based. They don’t indicate the actual cost, but, according to the company, the end result is an extra patrol bot that costs less than a year’s salary for two security officers.

The company’s been working for the past two years to get it right, focusing their research on industrial security needs. Pam Gheysar, Vigilant’s CMO, said in a press release, “We had no doubt we could make a ‘cool’ robot,” she said in a press release. “That is relatively easy, but autonomy is hard.” The ASIS award was validation that the company had indeed created what was being called a “game’-changer.”

Art galleries around the world just got a little bit more secure.

[image credits: blastr and Vigilant Robots]
images: blastr and Vigilant Robots

Peter Murray

Peter Murray was born in Boston in 1973. He earned a PhD in neuroscience at the University of Maryland, Baltimore studying gene expression in the neocortex. Following his dissertation work he spent three years as a post-doctoral fellow at the same university studying brain mechanisms of pain and motor control. He completed a collection of short stories in 2010 and has been writing for Singularity Hub since March 2011.

Discussion — 6 Responses

  • Tracy R. Atkins October 12, 2012 on 12:07 pm

    I’m curious what the performance and ROI is compared to fixed video cameras and motion detectors?

    • James Gunderson Tracy R. Atkins October 13, 2012 on 9:51 am

      Performance is a complex issue. We see our best case as environments where the space is fairly complex (lots of things that block site-lines) To cover these areas with fixed cameras can get expensive – both in the hardware cost, and in personnel to monitor the cameras. With motion detectors the situation is less clear, but there is generally a significant reduction in false alarms, which reduces both cost and stress.

      The robots are tailored for facilities like many warehouses, and museums, libraries, and event centers – where the layouts are frequently changing. The robot gives a very cost effective way to adapt to those changes, quickly and efficiently. These types of facilities often have to rely on human guards to deal with the changes, and it is remarkably difficult (even in a recession) to fill these positions with qualified, trusted employees.

      The ROI in situations that require guards is pretty straight forward. If you have two guards on duty it costs between $80K and $120K per year to staff the position 365 days a year. If you can use a human/robot pair (not all situations are appropriate) your amortized costs drop to $56K – $76K per year.

      Great question, thanks!

      • Tracy R. Atkins James Gunderson October 13, 2012 on 12:42 pm

        It sounds like there are quite a few advantages here. I like the idea of added coverage that is not predictable or tied into a hardwired system. Are there options for pre-programmed and spontaneous routes? Is there a module to tie one in so it can utilize an elevator for a multi-floor patrol?

        • James Gunderson Tracy R. Atkins October 13, 2012 on 1:08 pm

          The robot can be assigned a number of different ‘pre-programmed’ patrols and tasks with them as appropriate. As a note these patrols have the option of randomized dwell times at each station to reduce the temporal predictability of the robot, or the patrol can be executed as a randomized sequence of patrol stations to reduce the spatial predictability. Also, the robot can simple be told to wander at random in the space. In all cases the console application shows the current location of the robot as well as any alerts. and any video management system can display the camera feed, or with the right camera a simple web browser will give you the video.

  • James Gunderson October 13, 2012 on 9:35 am

    Thanks for the write-up! I thought I might address two points that you bring up, just to clarify. First is the price point, you are absolutely correct that our ability to deliver the robot at a cost-effective price is key. The installed price of a Vigilus MCP robot is around $35K. This is about the cost of covering the night shift for 10 months in most areas.

    The second point is the camera on the roomba approach. We actually have used cameras on roombas (or their equivalent) in testing. The big headache is that roomba go where they want to go, not where you need them to go. (Not to mention getting great video of the underside of the couch 🙂 We also looked at the video feed when they do happen to be somewhere significant – the view from 6″ off the floor just doesn’t seem to be what the security officers need.

    I hope this clarifies some of the uncertainties. I really liked your write up – you covered the key issues clearly and on target! Thanks,

  • nationalsecurityguard January 23, 2015 on 1:18 am

    Thanks for the write-up! I thought I might address two points that you bring up, just to clarify. First is the price point, you are absolutely correct that our ability to deliver the robot at a cost-effective price is key. The installed price of a Vigilus MCP robot is around $35K. This is about the cost of covering the night shift for 10 months in most areas.
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