Security Drones Reimagined As Friendly Helpers
Designer Yves Béhar created the concept design for schools, offices, hospitals, data centers, museums and warehouses
Designed by Yves Behar and his team at Fuseproject, Palo Alto-based startup Cobalt Robotics has crafted a collection of conical-shaped security guard bots that patrol offices and work alongside humans to ensure a safe work environment. Equipped with thermal and 360° day-night cameras, laser scanners, and carbon monoxide and smoke detectors (among other environmental sensors), the challenge in fashioning these automated, fabric-lined robots is one that other robotics manufactures face all the same: how does one implement futuristic technologies without making them feel foreign, or as if they pose the stereotypical apocalyptic threat?
In the case of a ‘policing’ robot such as this one, complete with a baked-in AI that rivals the spatial and communicative intelligence of an automated car, Behar argues that form-factor and the means through which one interfaces with the machinery is crucial to get right. Outfitted with a microphone and a simple touchscreen on one of its sides, the bots can detect and flag security-relevant conditions or anomalies (for example irregular visitors, open doors/windows, or suspicious items), and respond either autonomously through predetermined protocols or initiate a video call with a remote ‘human pilot’ who can tele-presently take control. Constant data collecting means a Cobalt robot is able to heat map where its been throughout the day, adjusting accordingly to optimize problem detection and further plotting 3D charts of sensor data such as Wi-Fi and temperature. An LED ring indicates when the bot is in action, and a badge reader allows employees to ‘punch in the clock,’ or identify themselves when they’ve aroused the bot’s suspicion.
Co-founded by one of MIT technology review’s 2015 list of young innovators winner Travis Deyle, Cobalt Robotics is comprised of a highly qualified team consisting of ex-SpaceX safety engineer Erik Schluntz, (who previously worked with Deyle at Google X to develop smart contact lenses) and human-robot interaction expert Dr. Leila Takayama. By placing a premium on experiential design, the team has not only engineered among the world’s first life-sized office bots, its managed to steer clear of the infamous uncanny valley by completely avoiding an automaton-esque aesthetic. In the case of an emergency – such as a fire or active shooter scenario – it especially makes sense to have an on ground bot (rather than one more human life) helping to get people to safety by distracting offenders and pointing the way to the nearest exit. Whether you love or hate this camera-on-wheels, the future will most certainly be saturated with more of these roaming mechanical critters; if you haven’t yet had the time to adjust to this reality, its better to start now when the robots are still coated with woven textiles rather than 3D-printed flesh.