Have the robots arrived? Assessing drone-based security

Nov. 21, 2022
A robotic fleet of airborne drones that can — at a fraction of the cost of a human guard — automatically, independently, and thoroughly get the job done, avoiding the hurdles that frustrate security managers.

Every veteran security manager grapples with the well-known balancing act of trying to keep costs in check while getting maximum performance from a team of security guards.

That list of financial and tactical challenges is long, and they aren’t new. With the exception of the standard collection of radios and flashlights, foot patrols haven’t changed much in a thousand years. 

Whether in a Viking camp, a Renaissance castle, Henry Ford’s automobile factory or today’s cutting-edge data center, guards in uniform walk around in a routine, mind-numbing path, keeping an eye out for intruders or danger. The pay isn’t great, and neither are the results when something out of the ordinary occurs … assuming they are even in the right place, at the right time, to notice. 

The limitations of those human security teams are broad and, when taken together, pretty frustrating. There are four root causes: 

  • Terms and Conditions. We humans need to eat, can work a limited number of hours per day, call in sick, need vacation time, and yes, frequently must step out to the restroom. Since the Industrial Revolution, we’ve come to accept these scenarios representing time we pay for …  but get nothing in return.
  • Human guards don’t scale. Because a guard can only be at one place at one time, the idea of “coverage” can only mean ongoing but sporadic patrols. It’s obviously much more economically feasible to have a few guards on the move, wandering in and out of various locations one after the other, than a larger team spread out more comprehensively and simultaneously. The problem with the current system, of course, is that if an intruder sneaks in, a generator overheats, or water pipe bursts just after a guard has passed by, discovery is delayed until the next pass — whenever that is!
  • Only superheroes can fly, shrink, or detect “invisible” heat. Most environments are at risk of crises caused by problems that aren’t visible to the human eye (overheating equipment, a leak above a warehouse structure or in a little-trafficked area, a burglar hidden in the shadows, e.g.), or within physical range of a human guard on the ground. Their detection evades even the most attentive patrol, not to mention those guards avoiding hot, uncomfortable, remote, or dangerous areas.
  • We’re uniquely qualified to create human error. Security and safety patrols are never fascinating. Can you really blame a guard for losing his edge after spending eight hours in the same unchanging environment, night after night? This reality means that even with all the best intentions, details are missed, scenes misremembered, and safety and security compromised.

Enough about the problem. It’s painful, and it’s been accepted for too long as the cost of doing business.

Taking to the Air

The alternative is a futuristic solution that is, at last, no longer actually in the future: A robotic fleet of airborne drones that can — at a fraction of the cost of a human guard — automatically, independently, and thoroughly get the job done, avoiding the hurdles that frustrate security managers.

Drones include a broad collection of advanced technologies that grant them incredible capabilities:

  • They move autonomously on pre-defined routes but can avoid obstacles and pause in environments needing exploration as they assess objects they do and do not expect to encounter.
  • Flight progress and cameras can be monitored in real-time, remotely.
  • They can carry highly sensitive sensors for detecting heat and “seeing” in the dark.
  • They move without the use of GPS (which works poorly indoors).
  • They can even continue monitoring with their 360-degree cameras while self-docked to recharge.

How Drones Stack Up

How does this approach outperform its human equivalent? First, drones have no time restrictions – they work nights, weekends, and holidays, and voice no objection to double- or triple-shifts.

They require no overtime pay, no sick leave or vacation time. That’s especially attractive during off hours when a facility is empty. Luxury Swiss watchmaker Movado, for instance, is currently piloting autonomous indoor drones at the group’s distribution center in Moonachie, N.J., to serve as a supplemental physical security measure for overnight and weekend coverage when adding manpower would be expensive.

Next, artificial intelligence and incredible onboard processing power allow drones to make millions of decisions each minute, as they navigate, analyze, record and report. They don’t get tired, lose focus, or allow boredom to blunt their efficiency.

Avantis, a software company with an ultra-secure mindset for its server rooms and other assets, was plagued by false alarms that had various executives rolling out of bed to drive over and investigate. Now they’ve got drones on the job comparing what they expect to what they actually see, providing the security team real-time feeds and peace of mind, without the false alarms.

A large data center service provider benefits from a similar sense of security in its security-conscious facility. It conducts ongoing drone-based inspection rounds throughout the night and on weekends. Drones scan the complex to detect any changes, malfunctions, or leaks, and monitor the temperature to ensure the integrity and ongoing operation of the site.

On the Move

Now let’s talk mobility. Moving in a 3D world, drones aren’t restricted to the ground. As a Osem-Nestle factory in Israel is discovering, drones are the perfect safety tool to fly high enough to scan shelving units and inventory in their many warehouses, providing a critical layer of protection for workers below; a loose screw or off-kilter crate can otherwise be fatal.

To be clear, none of the benefits above are achieved with security cameras. Cameras need to be installed in every room, hall and open area, at different angles, in an attempt to eliminate blind spots.

That’s an impossible, expensive endeavor that drones handle easily. And then there’s the cost of those cameras; the wiring, maintenance, upgrades and a team of human security personnel who still need to be on hand to monitor those cameras.

In short, while thousands of companies across dozens of sectors have been solving specific industrial problems with robotic technology (to handle repetitive or complex tasks with precision and speed), few can say they eliminate as many weaknesses in their business as does the business of security and safety.

Fast, cheaper, and more accurate than humans, a drone-based security platform is a single solution to the long list of problems that no longer have to be accepted as the status quo.

About the author: Ofir Bar Levav is the CBO of Indoor Robotics, a developer of fully autonomous indoor drones for security, safety and maintenance missions in indoor environments. Prior to joining Indoor Robotics, Ofir was general manager and vice president of ventures and open innovation at Johnson Controls where he led selected JCI investments and startup partnership. Prior to JCI, Ofir worked at Tyco Israel and at P&G Israel in various rolls including CFO and business management.