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    Will Robots Replace Rent-a-Cops?

    Written by

    Daniel Stuckey


    Image via Flickr

    Has a fear of robotics ever kept anyone from robbing banks? I'm not talking about the surveillance systems, laser-armed tripwires, noisy alarms, or automated locks on the doors. I'm talking about actual robots—an evolution of the ROOMBA Vacuum cleaner, but with legs, not cute, and definitely not something you want to rob.

    Now, an EU-funded, £7.2 million ($11 million USD) collaborative project, called Strands, is underway in England to develop 4D, artificial intelligence for security and care applications. It aims to produce intelligent robo-sentinels that can patrol areas, and learn to detect abnormalities in human behavior. Could their project eventually replace security guards with robots? It looks possible.

    Strands, as Nick Hawes of the University of Birmingham said, will "develop novel approaches to extract spatio-temporal structure from sensor data gathered during months of autonomous operation," to develop intelligence that can then "exploit [those] structures to yield adaptive behavior in highly demanding, real-world security and care scenarios."

    Hawes explained the challenge of designing machines that can be utilized as genuine assistants, or real-life C3POs. "To do this," he said, "we must make great leaps forward in understanding how robots can understand their worlds using the information their sensors provide."

    Tom Duckett, Director of the Lincoln Centre for Autonomous Systems Research, will take the helm on the research of creating 4D maps (like 3D, but in consideration of timelines). He explained:

    The idea is to create service robots that will work with people and learn from long-term experiences ... In a security scenario a robot will be required to perform regular patrols and continually inspect its surroundings for variations from its normal experiences... We are trying to enable robots to learn from their long-term experience and their perception of how the environment unfolds in time. The technology will have many possible applications.

    Dr Marc Hanheide, in charge of researching fundamental human relations capacities of the robotics added, "The main idea is to deploy robots that run for a long time so they have the chance to develop a common-sense attitude on how the world should be and be able to spot the deviations." 

    No matter how formidable a private security officer can be when wielding a 9mm pistol and a sweat-thirsty German Shepherd, at the end of the day it's still a mortal man. Not so with robot security. While projects like this bring into question unbeatable defense systems of the future, the military is already being roboticized. But the Strands project is more concerned with creating AI that can take the place of people doing mundane things—it's a signal of a science-fiction-positive future.

    It's the bank robbers and security guards that stand to lose the most here. Robots have already started snatching jobs away from food service workers. Now not even mall cops and John Dillinger are safe from the rise of automation.