The Softer Side of Security: Popularity of versatile, personable robots surges

A small, cute robot sits on a table while a man hunches over a computer in the background | Misty Robotics
Misty II can be customized to handle a wide range of security, safety and well-being tasks. | Misty Robotics

Physical security has become increasingly focused on health, well-being and providing a positive user experience for employees and visitors. The increased emphasis on safety rolls in processes that ensure workers stay productive while protected from risk or even the possibility of contagion in the workplace.

New software tools and integrated devices can alert people to unsafe behavior and prevent conditions that could put others at risk—including the potential of spreading the coronavirus. In the example of physical access and identity governance, access control software solutions track unsafe behavior and provide detailed, real-time data with complete visibility across the business so facilities managers can respond quickly.

Physical security is more than protecting businesses from intrusion or criminals and the perception of safety and comfort is now an integral part of the equation. As part of this mindset migration, robotics is stepping in to make visitors and employees more comfortable and trusting of their employer and environment.

The surge in robot popularity is bolstered by heightened machine learning, artificial intelligence and surveillance imaging technologies. In a world with COVID-19 as a backdrop, these devices are yielding a lighter touch to physical security and keeping the workplace environment safe.

In fact, people are becoming quite comfortable with these human-like bots assisting at the protected premises. Misty Robotics, Boulder, Colo., has a temperature screening assistant to ease visitors’ trepidation to entering businesses. Demure, with a small footprint that enables the device to sit on a desk, the Misty II robot is billed as a “polite and engaging robot and a safer way to greet employees and visitors.” It can hear, act and communicate using voice technology and convey a convincingly human-like personality.

Misty II addresses health screening needs with the added value of delivering a positive user experience. Humans appreciate the novelty of interacting with a clever and personable robot, said Ian Bernstein, Misty Robotics’ founder and head of product. Misty II provides a new world of opportunities, with robots for business, personal, research and educational use. It is purpose-built for developers and has the tools and documents users need to easily develop its skills. It can be expanded to new applications and customizations through third-party application programming interfaces, hardware modifications and additional sensors.

“The interaction that people get with Misty II with its personality and character presents a novelty that makes them smile,” Bernstein said. “That interaction is really cool and you don’t get it from a static tablet or screening kiosk. We have also seen that some people are uncomfortable answering screening questions directed from person to person.”

Bernstein said that, initially, Misty II provided a contactless way to get someone into a building in the era of COVID-19 when it was unsafe to do so.

“Now we see a lot of different applications, such as a receptionist or an assistant and especially in elder care and education,” he said. “One company in Spain is using robots to improve the quality of life of the elderly. It’s key to safety and can use its camera and computer vision to see if someone has fallen down. It can detect audio, move to the location and send photos from the incident immediately—in addition to providing companionship.”

Travis Deyle, co-founder and CEO of Cobalt Robotics, San Mateo, Calif., said robots can alleviate potential risk associated with security officers’ duties, whether it’s interaction with the public, guarding hazardous areas or staying safe during COVID-19. Last May, a security officer at a Flint, Mich., retail store was killed in an altercation that ensued while enforcing a mask order.

“Robots can deal with dangerous leaks and spills, health emergencies and even people stuck in elevators,” Deyle said. “They deliver excitement and people generally love the robot and are enthusiastic being around it. From a cultural standpoint, it provides a feeling and manifestation that the company cares about your health and safety. They can be used for facilities management, concierge and employee health and safety programs.”

“When a security guard can only be in one place, a robot can supplement their movement,” Deyle said. “We really didn’t have a clue about the variety of tasks a security officer actually does in a single day until we embarked down this path. There are many other applications that can run on top of the platform—for example a robot cleaning floors could also detect intruders. Robotics are becoming an integral part of deploying physical security solutions.”

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