Over the past decade or so, we have begun to see more technologies that remove the need for human involvement from what have traditionally been human activities. Earlier this year, The Economist wrote an article titled The Future Of Jobs: The Onrushing Wave. The article focussed on the role that technological innovation plays in eliminating jobs and on its effect on long-term employment. Reading the article made me question whether or not technological innovation can replace human security guards.
In a separate study by Dr. Carl Frey of the University of Oxford, it was predicted that work automation resulting from the use of robots would put up to 47 per cent of existing US jobs at “high risk”.
But there are many experts who would disagree with Dr. Frey. Take for instance the book The New Division of Labor: How Computers are Creating the Next Job Market, written by Frank Levy and Richard Murnane. In the chapter titled “Why People Still Matter”, the authors state that in many instances, computers are not able to replicate the intricacies of human perception. The example that they give to support that position relates to the way that humans drive automobiles. In that chapter, the authors state that “…executing a turn against oncoming traffic involves so many factors that it is hard to imagine discovering the set of rules that can replicate a driver’s behaviour…” Although the authors may have a hard time imagining discovering that set of rules, Google did not seem to find it as difficult. In fact, in October 2010, Google announced that it had modified several automobiles to operate fully autonomously. Human-less driving is such a possibility, that now even traditional automakers such as Nissan, Audi and Toyota are ratcheting up their efforts to develop their own versions of human-less driving technology.
Like Levy and Murnane, other researchers also disagree with Dr. Fey’s predictions. But the reality is, there are examples everywhere of what an automated and/or robotic future could look like. As an example, Kuka, a robotics firm in Germany, is testing an unmanned TV camera that promises smooth, shake-free camera panning for live broadcasts. In a much creepier example, Kokoro of Japan, has introduced humanoid robots that it believes can replace human receptionists in offices. Better yet, have you seen the inside of a modern manufacturing facility recently? Although we still imagine a place where human workers staff the assembly lines, most times that is far from the truth. In fact, most assembly lines are now 100 per cent mechanised; even most cars are made with less than 24 hours worth of human labour.
Although security guards are not one of the examples given above, it will not be long before we see the first robotic security guards…oh wait, that is already happening.
Human Security Guards vs Robots
If you have been in the security industry for any length of time, you know that there are many challenges that both security guard companies and their officers face. Is it possible that robots could help address issues like lack of training, high turnover, and low wages? Here are three examples of technologies that could one day replace human security guards.
Bob is the first robotic security guard in the United Kingdom. Bob patrols the headquarters of G4S (the world’s largest provider of human security guards) in Gloucestershire, and is part of a $12.2 million pilot project for the University of Birmingham. The goal of the university’s project is to place robots in offices all over the globe.
Bob uses an array of cameras and scanners to map the environment that it patrols. By doing so, the robot can plot the location of desks and chairs, as well as detect people moving in the space around it. By using that map, the robot can determine if something has changed in its environment since its last patrol. In those instances where Bob finds something out of place, it is capable of storing that information on an internal hard drive and alerting a human security guard. Bob is even capable of interacting with people who it encounters on its patrols, which includes saying hello and even asking for help when it gets stuck.
The Vigilant Mobile Camera Platform (MCP) is another example of a mobile robotic security guard. The Vigilant MCP was developed by Dr. Louise Gunderson and Dr. Jim Gunderson of Gamma 2 Robotics.
According to the company’s website, their robot fulfills three high-level needs that a security guard company would have for such a robot. Those requirements are affordability, autonomy and reliability.
In terms of the robot’s affordability, the website states that by incorporating off-the-shelf technology, break-even usually occurs in about one year. They believe that their robot’s autonomy is what differentiates their robot from any other. Once the robot is installed, they say that it instantly becomes an active and contributing team member. Gamma 2 Robotics also says that the Vigilant MCP is reliable enough to work 10 to 16 hours per day, providing a minimum of 3,600 hours of security annually. These are pretty impressive numbers.
Last on our list of possible contenders to replace human security guards is Junior. Junior is a small robot that is being developed by Roambotics, Inc. Junior is currently still in development and geared toward the home security market, but I can see its use in commercial applications as well.
Although Junior is not currently available for purchase, I thought it deserved a mention. If and when Junior is released to the general public, it will come with audio sensors and integrated cameras that will provide 360-degree vision. Junior will also be able to connect to other devices using Bluetooth.
Like Bob, Junior will be able to learn to adapt to its surroundings using its onboard sensors and by mapping the environment that it functions in. According to Roambotics CEO and Co-founder Scott Mentor, “…our software uses machine learning to get smarter over time”.
Although I do put value in the predictions of experts like Dr. Frey, I do not see technology totally replacing human security guards anytime soon. Even a spokesperson for G4S stated that “Bob is not about replacing our security officers; the security officers are at the point of use”. But what I do believe is that these technologies will become force multipliers for human security guards. These technologies will allow security guard companies the ability to do more with fewer human security guards. So rather than having three or four security guards working a shift, companies may be able to reduce that number to one guard and possibly one to two robots.
I also believe that this shift to using robots in conjunction with humans will require a shift in the skill sets needed by human security officers. The ability to operate, respond to, and possibly even install and make adjustments to these robots, may become standard job requirements. It will be these additional abilities and skills that will allow human security officers to stay on post rather than be replaced by their robotic counterparts.
In addition to being great tools for human security guards, using these technologies should also allow security guard companies to reduce turnover, increase wages, and even increase profit margins. Imagine that, a security guard industry with security officers that stay with their companies and customers longer, and also make more money. That seems like a winning combination for the officers, customers, and security guard companies.
Would you replace your human security guards with robots? Do you see these technologies as a threat or an opportunity for your company?