Archive for November, 2013

The Loop in the Robot

We undertook a tricky task – create a security robot that can do its job, on its own, for a full eight hour shift. Of course, the vast majority of those security shifts are boring and routine – in fact deadly dull. That is what makes them hard for a person to do well, and ideal for a machine. But security is really needed when things aren’t routine, when things stop being boring, when things go wrong. That is when you have to have intelligent, correct responses to the incident, and you have to have them now. Unfortunately, that kind of intelligent, situationally-aware response is exactly what machines are not good at.

Unless they have been designed from the ground up to provide that kind of response. To respond appropriately to an incident there are four key capabilities(1):

The OODA loop pioneered by John Boyd

The OODA loop pioneered by John Boyd

  • The ability to detect a potential problem – Observe,
  • The ability to recognize what is going on – Orient,
  • The ability to determine the ‘appropriate’ response, and – Decide
  • The ability to execute the response -Act.

These four capabilities must be resident in the robot, it can’t rely on having a human doing all the work, otherwise it doesn’t provide the force multiplier effect that is needed.  After all, if you have to keep a person around the ‘drive’ the robot, you haven’t gained, you’ve actually lost.  Instead of having a security officer doing his or her rounds, you now need a highly trained (and highly paid) robot technician on staff 24/7 just in case the robot has to deal with a security incident.

Let’s set the scene. A shopping mall in the middle of the night.  Things have been quiet, as they usually are. About four hours ago, the security officer told the robot to run the normal night patrols for its entire eight hour shift.  After that the officer was free to attend to other duties.

Now, if we were running an assembly robot in an industrial setting, that would be it. In that kind of tightly controlled environment all that is needed is a simple, fixed program because nothing is allowed to ‘disrupt’ the robots.  But in a human environment, you can’t have that level of control.  Unlike a robot, people never do the same thing twice in the same way.

So early in the evening the robot detected that a mop bucket had been left in a service corridor, and four things happened:  The robot detected an obstacle, determined that it was a typical item, figured out how to get around the obstacle, and then executed the appropriate behavior. All in a nights work. Later, things get more complicated – and that is why the robot needs to be intelligent.

Robot patrolling the receiving dock, and monitoring changing temperatures.

Robot patrolling the receiving dock, and monitoring changing temperatures.

While the robot was on patrol, the security officer got a door alarm from near the loading dock.  This could be nothing, or it could be trouble.  She dispatched a command to the robot – “Stop the patrol and get to the East Loading Dock.”  The robot now has to figure out the best way to get from where it is right now to the loading dock, and factor in the information learned during the shift. The most direct route would use the service corridor that is blocked by the mop bucket, so come up with the best clear path, and get moving!

At every moment the robot is in the loop: planning the best action, predicting the outcome, executing the action, comparing the results with the prediction, and then planning again.  This allows the system to respond appropriately to the situation at all times.  If it encounters another obstacle on the way to the loading dock, it has to know more than the fact that there is an obstacle. If this a box int the way, the robot just goes around it. But if this obstacle is an intruder the robot needs to behave completely differently, turning on strobes and sirens and sending an alert to the command center.  There is no ‘one size fits all’ response – the correct action must be determined from the circumstances – just like a well trained human would do.

If a robot is going to work with people, and if people with critical jobs are going to rely on that robot, the robot needs to be intelligent and autonomous to hold up its part of the bargain.

Where is your robot?® Ours are made in the USA and are distributed by Vigilant Robots.

For more information, check out our monthly newsletter, or contact us.

(1) Based on the OODA Loop. pioneered by fighter pilot John Boyd in the 1950’s


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Robots and Spaceships and Storms -Oh My!

Last week I did an interview with Greg Moore the Editor-in-Chief of the Denver Post – we covered the gamut from the impacts of service robots on the economy, to space travel, and tornado chasing. It was a fun discussion sparked by a conversation at the Denver Press Club. Here is a link to the interview.

20131120- Interview between Greg Moore, Editor of the Denver Post, and Jim Gunderson, CTO of Gamma two Robotics.

20131120- Interview between Greg Moore, Editor of the Denver Post, and Jim Gunderson, CTO of Gamma two Robotics.

To learn more about our Security Robots, and applications in warehouse, shopping mall, and data center protection, visit us at Vigilant Robots.

Where’s your robot?®

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Robot Cowboys?

These robots work with the herd:




A quick link to a story (with Video) from the Australian Centre for Field Robotics about using robots to herd dairy cows.

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Why are all the robots weapons?

Here is a link to the movie trailer for “The Machine” to be released in March 2014.


Movie Trailer for “The Machine”

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Could this happen to your property?

14 teenagers broke into a vacant building in Gainesville. FL for a night of rock and roll, partying, and destruction.

Teens break into vacant office building for overnight party.

Teens break into vacant office building for overnight party.

“Property managers and law enforcement found bottles, condoms… And a disco light. Gainesville Resident, Cheryl Sudbury says all the vacant buildings in the neighborhood makes a tempting recipe for trouble for young people.”

If this were a property that you were responsible for – what would you tell the owners?  What would they say to you?

The Property Manager was quoted as saying “After this, I will consider adding security.”

Check out this earlier post on security robots and vacant buildings

Where is your robot?® Ours are made in the USA by Vigilant Robots

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Robot Should Love the Senate’s New Minimum Wage Bill

The new minimum wage bill in the senate is very pro-robot!  At the same time that it raises the minimum wage to $10.00/hr – it gives tax credits to businesses that add technology.  The result – fewer (expensive) human workers and more (free) robotic workers.  I touched on this in a previous post, but here is the link to the recent Atlantic article.

Today, it costs between $40,000 and $60,000 to cover an eight hour night security shift, 365 days a year.  This is the industry estimated, fully loaded (taxes, FICA, vacations, etc.) cost, depending on area. With a $10.00/hr minimum wage, that changes to $55,000 to $85,000 per year.

Today, you can buy a fully loaded mobile security robot for under $50,000, and put it to work ten to twelve hours a night, 365 nights a year.  Given the tax credits in the new bill, you would get the robot for free!

Robots should love the senate’s new minimum wage bill – if they were programmed for love.

Where’s your robot?® Ours are ready to go to work, made in the USA by Vigilant Robots.

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Brick-laying robot on the job site in Victor NY

As we develop robots with more capabilities we find more and more jobs outside the factory floor that can be handled (in part) by robots.

Construction Robotics' brick-laying robot SAM, or the Semi-Automatic Mason, places bricks on wall of new construction in Victor. / KATE MELTON

Construction Robotics’ brick-laying robot SAM, or the Semi-Automatic Mason, places bricks on wall of new construction in Victor. / KATE MELTON

Check out this video of the Semi-Autonomous Mason (SAM) brick-laying robot at work!  3000 bricks a day!

It only does part of the job, and requires supervision as well as the human touch to follow up.  But it means that a mason can produce more and better work by working with the robot as a tool, than working alone.

As I discussed in an earlier post Robots need to ‘earn their pay’ to be effective. This often means taking over the dull, dirty, or dangerous parts of a job, to enable the people to focus on what people do best.

Where is your robot?® Ours are proudly made in the USA by Vigilant Robots

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Dropping unemployment rate opens doors for Security Robots

As the US unemployment rate drops, it becomes harder to find people willing to do the dirty, dull, and dangerous jobs. With fewer people chasing more jobs, potential employees have more options in what jobs they take.  This has a strong impact on the physical security industry, since many of those jobs are seen as ‘less desirable,’ and typically wages for these jobs are driven by the customer’s perception of low value.  “After all,”  they think, “my security officer is just sitting around the warehouse at night. How hard can that be?”

Of course the reality is that you want someone doing more that ‘just sitting around’ if they are protecting hundreds of thousands of dollars of inventory. You need someone who is focused, disciplined, and alert.  They need to be reliable, dependable, and trustworthy. But those people are now looking at day jobs, not the night shift; they are looking at jobs in an office with co-workers, not working alone in a cold, empty warehouse. With the September 2013 unemployment rate dropping into the 7% range, and showing a significant downward trend over the last three years, security managers are getting worried.

latest M09 unemployment data from Bureau of Labor Statistics

September 2013 unemployment data from Bureau of Labor Statistics

Where are they going to find the people they need on those night shifts; how are they going to keep trained, reliable security officers as the job market continues to get tighter? How are they going to bid on new contracts when they are having trouble filling the positions on their current contracts?

We are seeing a growing interest in using mobile, autonomous security robots to perform the really dull, dirty, and dangerous tasks in the physical security portfolio. The middle of the night shift, the vacant building patrols, the (extremely) boring fire watch shifts.  These are shifts where you really need disciplined, focused, alert eyes, ears, and noses on patrol. Constantly moving around, checking things out, and calling for help if there is a problem.  These tasks are ideal for a computer driven robot, because they require almost machine-like diligence and attention to detail; two areas where people often do not perform well..

Mobile robot patrolling garage

The Vigilus Mobile Camera Platform Robot on patrol in a warehouse in Denver, CO. The security robot is manufactured by Vigilant Robots.

The tightening labor market will lead to a greater presence of robots in the workplace; not just the industrial settings, where they have been utilized for 50 years, but working alongside people in office buildings, data centers, event centers, distribution centers,  cultural centers, warehouses and other locations that have traditionally been staffed by people.

The key is making sure that these robots are both safe and effective when working with people.  You can’t require employers to change the business to fit the robots, you need to have robots that can change to fit the jobs.  This will require a whole new generation of robots, ones that are designed from the ground up to work with people.

But, as the available labor pool continues to tighten we will see more and more ‘job descriptions’ that can be met by robots, and we will see more and more robots in everyday life. Today we see many jobs that are viewed as ‘low end’ becoming strong candidates for robot workers, and the ‘midnight shift’ security job is one where the demand is high, and the requirements are almost designed for a robot. Security officers are trained to produce routine, structured, predictable responses to events and incidents: almost a definition of ‘robotic’ behavior.  So, rather than trying to force people to become more like robots – why not use robots that can do these ‘mechanized’ jobs?

Where is your robot?® Ours are busy protecting lives and property: Vigilant Robots

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