Robot ‘security guards’ up for hire

Robot ‘security guards’ up for hire
The S5, which can detect, inspect and report on security breaches, is an autonomous robot able to work on its own. Photo: Robin Choo
Published: 4:00 AM, April 7, 2017
Updated: 11:42 AM, April 7, 2017

SINGAPORE — A new robot “security guard” is in town: Yesterday, Ademco Security Group launched a service for organisations to rent robots to patrol their premises.

These 1.6m-tall, four-wheeled, seven-eyed robots can detect, inspect and report on security breaches and other abnormalities such as fire, smoke, burst pipes, loud sounds, and even unattended bags.

They are not remote-controlled, but are autonomous robots able to work on their own.

However, the company acknowledges that the 160kg robot, called S5, has its limitations. For example, even though it sends out alerts if it spots a break-in, that may not stop intruders from tampering with its circuits.

The robots can move on slopes, but they cannot climb stairs. They are also unsuitable for use in spaces with high human traffic, so it would be more effective to deploy them in large sites or protected zones such as oil and chemical plants or military zones.

These robots are not cheap: You have to pay S$7,500 a month to rent them. This works out to S$10.40 an hour for using them round-the-clock.

Mr Toby Koh, group managing director of Ademco, said that the cost is not too much to ask, considering how companies are spending up to S$4,000 a month for one security officer clocking 12-hour shifts, or paying S$8,000 for two officers to cover 24 hours.

Apart from being able to feed a 360° view of its surroundings to a guard on duty, the S5 can record the licence-plate numbers of cars it encounters, as well as record activities for playback. One of its cameras is also a pan-tilt camera with a zooming function, so it can see farther than the human eye can. If suspicious activities are detected, then the guard may follow up to investigate.

Mr Koh told TODAY that three organisations have expressed interest in using the robots to complement their security systems at some 70 sites across Singapore, though he could not name them due to commercial sensitivities. He added that the companies are turning to this solution mainly to address high employee turnover and to free their existing guards from foot-patrol duties.

Ademco gets 20 to 30 calls from clients to hire security guards, but there is never enough supply to meet demand. This shortage is felt industry-wide. Certis Cisco, which provides the largest auxiliary security force in Singapore, told TODAY that it is also looking to use autonomous robots equipped with artificial intelligence and “computer vision” where possible.

Yesterday, the trial of the S5 at Tan Boon Liat Building on Outram Road drew curious looks, especially from the building’s security guards.

One 62-year-old who has been in this line for 13 years but declined to be named, said he could see such robots relieving him of the most “monotonous and laborious” aspect of his job.

“In some facilities, eight out of 12 hours could be spent patrolling ... That’s not something old people like me can stand up to every day.”