It wasn’t long ago that the idea of a robot patrolling facilities such as factories or hospitals—providing help when needed, or protecting physical assets to ensure they remain protected and secure—was the stuff of pure science fiction.
Now, it’s a relatively accessible reality. Some would even say we’re nearing a point where robot security is becoming a mainstream, commoditized service. So, how did we reach this tipping point? Better yet, will we see a day when robots completely replace human guards?
Companies such as Hexagon, Gamma2 Robotics, and Knightscope are making huge strides in the development of robot security software and robots that can autonomously patrol a facility at any time, the extent of their labour limited only by the charge in their batteries. Organizations have been receptive to the new technology due to a number of real-world factors ranging from the potential risk of injury to human guards, to the basic monotony of patrolling a facility dozens of times during the course of a shift.
Robots also provide cost stability and certainty. Their wages never increase because they don’t require a salary. They will never ask for overtime pay, nor do they require severance payments upon termination (or in this case, decommissioning). If you no longer require the robot’s services, unplug it, sell it or send it back to the company from which you’ve leased it.
With that in mind, robots may seem to be the ideal solution for any organization looking to secure their facilities. Or maybe not.
Robotic limitations abound
While robotic adoption and deployment will become easier, and the rollout will continue across the integrated security solutions industry as costs continue to fall, these roaming, futuristic devices will likely never replace human guards. Instead, we should consider them a utilitarian complement to the work of trained security personnel. Why?
First, humans provide operational continuity. They see and hear things that even the most sophisticated software and cameras can’t. A human’s ability to recognize potential danger or abnormal situations is still well ahead of the capabilities of current onboard robotic software. Robots can detect variations such as temperature differences or when a door, that should otherwise be locked, isn’t. But they still need to be programmed to detect such abnormalities. They also can’t apprehend intruders (yet!) or assist in the event of a situation such as a medical emergency. At best, they can only serve as an extra set of eyes and ears for someone watching a space through the robot’s onboard cameras, then relay a call for help to first responders.
They’re also not foolproof.
Last year a Knightscope robot patrolling the Stanford Shopping Center outside of San Jose, Ca., caused a stir when it ran over and bruised a toddler’s foot. The boy was OK, but the incident underscored the challenges that even the most complex algorithm and sensor systems can face when attempting to predict and react to unusual or erratic variables, such as the movements of a young child.
There’s also the issue of human and cultural acceptance, particularly with employees. Not everyone will love the sight of a robot roaming around their workplace, potentially monitoring their every move in cases where a facility is operational day and night.
That could all change in the future with advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning. Robotics capabilities will also continue to make exponential leaps forward with the specific goal of avoiding incidents such as having a 300-pound robot run over a toddler’s toes.
A fit for some businesses—but not all
Still, the technology holds the promise of greater flexibility and affordability for organizations of all sizes, particularly small and medium-sized businesses.
If you’re not sure whether robot security guards might be the right fit for your organization, you’re not alone. In the months and years ahead, many business leaders will be asking the same question and calculating the potential cost savings of relying on R2-D2-like patrol guards over their human counterparts.
My recommendation is to analyze your security needs as an organization. Do the costs of adopting high-tech tools such as a robot outweigh the benefits of tapping the services of a traditional security firm? In many cases, they won’t. Even robots need maintenance, not to mention the costs of managing their initial programming, which can be steep.
Any new technology should be suited to the environment you hope to protect. If yours is a high-tech industrial facility that requires high levels of security, or potentially even contains volatile chemicals or other hazardous materials, then a robot might make sense. If it’s a shopping mall where customer interactions are frequent and delivering a high-touch level of service is important, then sticking with professional guards is probably the best option.
What’s most important is to work with a security firm that conducts a holistic analysis of your operations and security requirements, provides a package of integrated security services that are customized to your specific needs, and has high-tech tools such as drones, robotics, facial recognition, advanced surveillance systems and the like in their toolkit.
Robot security guards may or may not make sense when looking for options to secure your property, but as manufacturers continue to expand and perfect their capabilities, these droid-like patrollers should at least be on your radar as an option.
What exactly are integrated security services?
Remember when delivering security services meant assigning a guard to patrol a building to make sure that doors were locked, monitor CCTV cameras, and generally ensure that nothing untoward was happening across a property?
That was basically the situation when we founded Wincon Security back in 1992. Given the current leap forward in technological advancements, that year may as well have been 1882!
Systems integration as a business model
Nowadays, progressive security companies leverage the latest and greatest technologies to help protect client properties and assets. We’re no different, except for the fact that several years ago, we took the notion of advancing security processes and procedures to the next level. We embraced the concept of systems integration. Put simply, it’s the process of ensuring your organization leverages the most effective technology possible to satisfy all relevant security needs, but in a holistic way that looks at every aspect of your business model.
The entire process starts with a security risk analysis to highlight vulnerabilities around a property or key asset. Rudimentary questions such as access point vulnerability, external threat levels, and the very nature of the assets under protection—are they volatile or highly sought-after materials, for example—all factor into the equation to determine how best to protect your property and people. From there, it’s about looking at the available technology on the market and choosing the right solutions for your organization’s needs.
Work with a security firm that understands the latest technology
This is where it gets tricky, and where the more reputable security firms are differentiated from those with less-than-stellar track records. Progressive security firms will have a strong handle on those technological tools—such as high-definition cameras, advanced biometrics, card access systems, drones, and cutting-edge security software—including how they might best integrate with your existing security infrastructure to deliver the desired protective results. In many cases, a full security infrastructure overhaul is a non-starter given the overwhelming costs. That’s why you need to work with a budget-conscious provider who understands that security funds are nearly always finite.
Bear in mind that sometimes the process of finding the right technology can involve a cross-continent search. In rare cases, we might need to source products from providers around the world to satisfy a client’s security needs. But that’s simply the nature of the task at hand—finding the right product often means looking further afield. That’s why it’s more important than ever for security firms to maintain strong partnerships with suppliers across North America and beyond.
The importance of value-added service
Security firms such as ours, which take pride in being full-service, integrated security services providers, will then leverage that technology to deliver enhanced value to our customers. Let’s face it: anybody can sell you a great monitoring system or even a drone to help protect your property. But it’s the unique ones that can bring it all together with an effective strategy that integrates human and technological assets to produce a holistic solution to meet your needs—and keep the bad guys at bay for the foreseeable future. Couple that technology with a robust 24-hour support and facility monitoring service such as ours, and that end result becomes achievable.
Any comprehensive systems integration plan should also be focused on improving efficiency, reducing overhead costs, and mitigating risk—all key value propositions for owners and managers of retail, commercial, condominium, office and industrial properties. But it doesn’t end there.
A culture built on innovation
We’ve incorporated a strong emphasis on innovation as one of our firm’s key value propositions. While innovation was always a key part of our corporate culture, it’s now a central pillar. We expect employees to come forward with process improvement and technology ideas based on their interactions with clients, ongoing industry research, and on-the-job observations. Our management team then assesses their input and uses it to provide a never-ending stream of feedback and ideas to our clients.
In that sense, systems integration is as much a company-wide process as it is a system of procurement and operational deployment. It’s a principle that drives cutting-edge security providers (or should) and ensures that clients get the solutions they need. More importantly, it’s a way of doing business that delivers a competitive advantage to security firms that incorporate it.
For Wincon Security, embracing systems integration has been a game-changer—and it has the potential to deliver similar results to your organization, too.
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The Wincon Security Team