The End of Security Guards? (Vigilus Robot)By: Ethan Ace, Published on Sep 09, 2012
"A new wave of robots is replacing workers in both manufacturing and distribution" claims the New York Times. And now a new ASIS award winning robot [link no longer available] aims to replace security guards. In this note, we dig into the key capabilities and pricing of this new robot and how it stacks up against human guards.
The Vigilus Mobile Camera Platform is an autonomous robotic security system with the following key features:
- Autonomous operation: The robot may be set on task in a variety of ways, via the central console, voice command, or two-way radio. Tours and locations may be set up via importing of CAD drawings or by walking the robot to each location. The robot will respond to commands such as "Move to loading dock" after these locations are set up. Vigilus may also be controlled manually via the software console.
- Sensors: Vigilus contains passive thermal sensors and sonar which are used for object detection and navigation, as well as classification of subjects, such as animals or human intruders. Additionally, multiple gas sensors, such as carbon monoxide or combustible gas may be installed.
- IP camera: The robot carries a user provided IP camera which may be used to view its surroundings, and integrated into third-party video management systems. This video is not used by the robot itself.
- Wireless connectivity: Vigilus is connected to its central command console via 802.11n wireless, if available throughout the facility. For buildings without wireless coverage, 3G/4G connectivity is an option.
- Mobility: The Vigilus robot essentially requires the facility to be ADA compliant. It may use ramps and may be customized to operate elevators, but is unable to ascend or descend stairs. Its top speed is about five miles per hour, but it typically moves at lower speeds.
Vigilus is expected to be available in Q3 2012. Pricing is not yet finalized, but is expected to be in the range of $30,000-40,000 USD.
Here's a short video showing the robot 'walking':
It may not be simple or common to use this with elevators. Elevator control is accomplished via an RF signaling integration, not via the robot pushing call buttons (though this would be undoubtedly more sci-fi). Systems such as these are not common, but have seen some use in healthcare installations, where robots are used to deliver medications and other supplies to multiple floors in a hospital.
Tipping the Robot (Member Request)
While not extremely challenging to top the robot, its center of gravity is shifted to the bottom rear, where the battery is located, making it more difficult. The size of its wheels make it difficult to tip to either side, and a stop in its front prevents it from tipping straight forward. Additionally, the robot vocally alerts users to stop pushing (not joking), and signals may be sent to the console upon attempt. All these features aside, truly determinded attackers would likely have only modest trouble tipping it.
Dealing with Different Surfaces
Changing surfaces can be a challenge for the robot. For instance, the plush carpet of the ASIS booth was causing movement issues with the robot, which is normally calibrated to work on solid surfaces such as concrete or thinner carpet typically found in commercial offices. This may present an issue if multiple drastically different floor types are found in a facility, as the robot would need to be adjusted to accomodate these differences or if surfaces were changed over time.
The Vigilus system is currently standalone, and with the exception of the user provided IP camera, does not integrate to other security systems, such as video management or access control. Gamma Two informs us an API will be made available, so the robot may be driven by events from these systems, moving it to respond to alarms.
The company behind Vigilus is Gamma Two, a small technology company based in Colorado led by a husband [link no longer available] and wife [link no longer available] PhDs. The company has been developing robots since 2003 but is only now starting to market broadly. The company is internally funded, not looking for investment but willing to consider it.
While the company is initially working directly with earlier customers, it seeks to develop channel partners to help sell and service the robots.
The only other security robot we know of is Oculus, is far less expensive though far less sophisticated (no programmed path, no integrated sensors) unit.
Compared to Guards
The two key advantages of the robot are:
- Less expensive than guards. At $30,000 to $40,000 USD it costs about a year of 1 security guard shift and the fraction of what 24/7 manned security costs.
- Can safely go into areas that might otherwise be dangerous to a human. The robot may be destroyed but, by definition, it cannot be wounded or killed, which reduces liability concerns and payouts.
However, the robot has some key limitations compared to a human:
- Deterrence: A human guard is more likely to deter intruders than a robot would. First, intruders may not even recognize the robot as a security device. Additionally, assaulting a security is a much more serious crime with harsher penalties than tipping over a robot.
- Mobility: Human guards are capable of navigating stairs and rough outdoor areas the Vigilus is not. If the facility has multiple floors or mezzanine areas which must be guarded, without elevators, Vigilus is likely a poor fit.
- Customer service: Security guards often hellp employees and visitors answering questions, escorting them, assisting them with tasks. A robot will not be able to do much, if any, of this.
- Price: At $30,000+, it is not cheap nor trivial investment for security users.
- Track record: Perhaps the most challenging limitation Gamma Two must overcome is the lack of proven track record of robots in security. Security managers are risk-averse by nature, so using untested technology such as this may be undesirable.
This noted, given the low innovation in the security industry and the fascination many have with guards, we think this will be one of the most hotly debated, talked about products at the show. However, whether this will have a significant impact will take years to determine, as this offering is still in its infancy.