Droning On: Unmanned aerial vehicles, robotics find their spot in integrated systems

Published On
Nov 13, 2020

With refined autonomous mobility and increased intelligence, drones and robots are entering the physical security industry as another viable piece of an integrated system solution. Available as a service and on demand, security contractors will soon witness the widespread proliferation of the technology, which can be customized using software and other programming.

Big-box players Amazon (Prime Air) and Walmart announced increased efforts in aerial delivery deployment. In August, the Federal Aviation Administration granted Amazon approval to deliver packages, while in September, Walmart announced plans to provide health and wellness product shipments in the United States in early 2021.

Why now?

The use of unmanned aerial vehicles in the physical security space has become increasingly feasible, resulting from the integration of new and refined technologies in computer vision and processing, software/deep learning, sensing, artificial intelligence, object detection and avoidance, high-resolution surveillance, GPS/navigation and wireless connectivity. They can integrate with voice-command systems, such as Alexa, and other installed solutions at the protected premises, including access control, intrusion, elevator control and video cameras.

Drones are common in traditional construction projects, and those applications will continue upward. Reportlinker.com, in its study “Drones Market-Growth, Trends and Forecast (2020–2025),” cites market growth above 15% and topping $47 billion by 2025. Drones continue to upend traditional operational processes in construction and now capture aerial data for project analysis, land planning and surveys, structural and site inspection, photography and equipment tracing. They perform visual inspections of high-risk or dangerous areas while providing real-time data to management and owners for more efficient operations.

Options for deployment

In security, drones and robots can be used in surveillance, in personnel safety and as an adjunct to or replacement of guards. They react to their surroundings and report back with detailed video and audio, and allow the user to conduct an immediate assessment and deploy additional resources as necessary.

There’s also a growing category of counterdrone technology—software designed to detect interloping aerial systems in oil and gas, utilities, critical infrastructure and other high-security government applications, as well as stadiums, airports and outdoor venues. It’s no longer a question of if, but when these devices will become common in physical security projects.

“It’s absolutely inevitable that drones and robotics will be a component of all future security systems,” said Alex Pachikov, founder and CEO of Sunflower Labs, San Francisco, one of the inventors of the patents-pending Sunflower Home Awareness System. The solution consists of the Bee autonomous aerial drone; the Hive base station; and motion and vibration sensors called Sunflowers. It integrates with voice systems to provide a natural language message of what’s happening on the protected property and what specifically is being detected, e.g., “Someone entered the gate.” Users can launch the Bee directly from a voice prompt by saying, “Take a look at my backyard.” The user can also use voice commands to look in specific areas, take snapshots and ask Alexa to land the drone.

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The Sunflower Home Awareness System consists of the Bee autonomous aerial drone, Hive base station and motion and vibration sensors called Sunflowers. It will be available in early 2021.

“Sunflowers fuse motion and vibration data from people and vehicles to detect more than typical computer vision, providing detail that could not be achieved by traditional fixed security cameras,” Pachikov said.

The on-board camera, by Sony, New York, is a low-light device that covers infrared and visible light spectra. The Sunflower solution will be available to its target market of high-end residential and large properties in early 2021, with direct-to-consumer and dealer/installer distribution models.

“Drones are our eyes in the sky,” Pachikov said. “You can send a drone to an area to see what’s happened. You can scare off intruders and get an optimal point of view. Sunflower also integrates with Ring and Nest, synthesizing information from multiple sources.”

Drones for airspace security

Physical security teams may also choose to adopt counterdrone technology for unmanned aircraft threat detection and mitigation, where airspace security software automatically collects data from hardware sensors to show a complete overview of airspace activity.

“Anyone with a fence now needs the aerial equivalent to monitor drone activity and prevent interruptions,” said Amit Samani, vice president of enterprise sales for Dedrone, San Francisco, maker of airspace security software. “Anyone protecting critical assets or infrastructure will have to extend their existing security systems to the lower airspace and consider integrating counterdrone technology into their designs.”

Airspace security software provides automated reporting with analytics and data to help security teams understand how to react.

“Observing the drone via a camera, a security operator can determine if the drone poses a surveillance threat or if it is carrying a payload and may pose a contraband or terrorist threat. Cameras classify the threat and record evidence to review later in the event the security team needs to take legal action against a drone pilot or file insurance claims for any damage,” Samani said.

Robots are already becoming a critical edge device in deploying physical security systems, said Travis Deyle, co-founder and CEO of Cobalt Robotics, San Mateo, Calif.

“Clients are using robots for patrolling and like the consistent results and perfect reporting. All these systems, including different form factors of drones and robots, are cooperating and working together. For example, triggered motion detection can automatically dispatch a robot to a specific area or intercept a drone,” he said. “Robots are another ‘color of paint’ available and the security director is the master artist, using them where they make most sense.”

About the Author

Deborah L. O'Mara

Freelance Writer

O’MARA writes about security, life safety and systems integration and is managing director of DLO Communications. She can be reached at dlocommunications@gmail.com or 773.414.3573.

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