November 03, 2010
Home Robots Guard Houses

A pair of New York Times articles catch the emerging new zeitgeist: Robots and surveillance cameras keep watch both inside and outside homes.

When Robert Oschler, a programmer, leaves his home, he knows it is secure. And if he ever has cause for concern, he can open his laptop and survey the house through the eyes of his watchdogs.

“I don’t have any pets. I just have pet robots, and they’re pretty well behaved,” Mr. Oschler said. “Fortunately I’ve never logged in and seen a human face.”

Think about how cell phones are displacing PDAs, iPods, and GPS devices. Well, at home it seems logical for a Roomba or a Neato robotic vacuum cleaner to take on more functions like home surveillance. After all, the vacuum needs to cruise around the house anyway. Add in more sensors and an 802.11 transceiver to talk to the main house server and the vacuum robots become security guards too.

People are watching their yards and neighbors with motion-activated surveillance cameras. Such cameras could alert the house robots too.

With their cameras hidden in bushes or dangling from windows, these homeowners are outing not just littering dog owners, but also bottle snatchers and car scratchers. Although Mr. Miller’s surveillance system came with two motion-activated cameras, he used only one of them, anchoring it with a zip tie to a concrete balustrade outside an upstairs window and running the wire inside, where he plugged it into a DVR.

A month’s worth of video footage clearly showed one of his neighbors slinging bags of dog feces into his yard. “You’d see him come from all directions and even turn around afterwards — like I was his dumping destination and not just a convenient stop on his way,” said Mr. Miller, who showed the video evidence to his community’s security patrol. “They were stunned, and wrote the guy a citation for improper waste disposal, littering and leash law violations.”

So how to take all this up a level? I see a few possibilities:

  • Home robots could have drugged dart delivery capability remotely controllable by police to knock out a home invader.
  • One inner room in the house could have a remotely closable door that would trap an invader who entered that room. The reverse purpose of a safe room for getting away from a home invader.
  • A smart device in the house that would get a tissue sample from the home invader for later lab DNA testing. What is a good way to do this?

Got any other ideas for home robotic security short of a fully functional android?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 November 03 11:16 PM  Surveillance Robots

PacRim Jim said at November 4, 2010 12:51 AM:

Better buy a robot lawyer, too, to defend against the suits that will surely follow.

Mthson said at November 4, 2010 3:13 AM:

re:'A smart device for tissue samples..."


Lono said at November 4, 2010 8:49 AM:

PacRim Jim,

Not if they don't find a body!

Come into my damn house uninvited - and you are fair game for my many maniacal traps!

I will not be a victim to sociopaths and/or psychopaths!

The technology has truly come of age to turn the tables on this kind of home invader.

(and telepresence will allow me to distinguish friend from foe - to avoid any Goldilocks-esque misunderstandings)

random said at November 4, 2010 10:43 AM:

You should read Daemon by Daniel Suarez. The book contains some interesting ideas along this line (and much more). Think home security armed with Sonic Weapons (

Engineer-Poet said at November 4, 2010 11:16 AM:

Hmmm, what would work as a non-destructive weapon?

Sirens or other painfully loud noises.
Extremely bright strobes to disrupt vision temporarily and disorient the intruder.
Nets and tripwires.

Enough of that and the police would probably find the intruder either in the house or a fairly short distance away; it's hard to drive when your eyes need several minutes to recover from being dazzled.

Projectile weapons, even beanbags, are probably too fraught with legal liability to be usable even if you could guarantee that they wouldn't wind up smashing into the china cabinet or the artwork on the walls.

Phillep Harding said at November 4, 2010 11:30 AM:

re Sedative darts: Not only are individual reactions highly varied, burglers are often on their own set of drugs and you can get a nasty drug interaction and a dead burgler. Too risky, unless you have a large back yard and a back hoe.

Phillep Harding said at November 4, 2010 2:34 PM:

Humorous note re "sonic weapons": Someone figured out that if they aimed a single side band transmission at someone from one direction and a carrier wave from another (both transmitters in the ultrasonic range) the human ear is non-linear enough act as a detector and the victim, ah, "subject" can hear the sound but cannot tell where it is coming from. If the transmissions have a short enough wave length to be directional, no one close by subject can hear the transmission as they, at most, are exposed to only one or the other beams.

Engineer-Poet said at November 4, 2010 9:16 PM:

Someone on drugs might think God was talking to them even without ultrasonic help.

RobinHood said at November 6, 2010 3:58 AM:

"Knock out" darts? DNA samples? Who are you? Batman? Use the camera to check your house before you come in, but God's sake get out more often!

denton said at November 6, 2010 1:49 PM:

What was old is new again.

Heathkit had the Hero robot 30+ years ago that patrolled your home among other things. Anybody but me remember the synthesized voice saying "Intruder alert. Intruder alert...."?

tom swift said at November 6, 2010 2:32 PM:

So were do the robots come in? This sounds like routine security stuff.

And of course with or without robots, you can't set traps in your house, at least not unless you are willing to become a victim of the legal system.

Swen Swenson said at November 6, 2010 2:42 PM:

Very interesting ideas, right up to the 'drugged dart remotely controllable by police' bit. I am *so* not having a robot in my house that's remotely controllable or monitorable by anyone but me and Phillep Harding is right about the dangers of drugged darts. But if the idea is to catch the crook, I could see a robot equipped with a paintball gun loaded with indelible ink balls, surveillance cams equipped with indelible dye sprayers, and such. Banks put exploding dye packets in the bag with the cash when they're robbed, something that works on the same principle should be effective and legally defensible.

_Jon said at November 6, 2010 3:18 PM:

wrt dna: have a way to cause the perp to sneeze. Some form of remotely deployable pepper or powder.
If you are watching on camera, you can direct the po-po to collect dna from where ever the perp sneezes.

Sean Sorrentino said at November 6, 2010 4:14 PM:

Fully Automatic Paintball Sentry gun.

Could you imagine the pain at very short range? You could use indelible dye and pepper balls.

fiftyville said at November 6, 2010 5:43 PM:

Farm guard. Last year someone did a great job stripping my apricot tree one night.

Anonymous said at November 6, 2010 10:35 PM:

A .45 should do.

Dave said at November 7, 2010 5:56 AM:

There is an old body of Common Law cases having to do with "spring guns" -- e.g., guns that go off when someone trips a wire. The long and the short of it is that the courts did not look kindly on them and at their most favorable said that you were responsible as if you were there and did it yourself (except you didn't get the being-there benefit of claiming self defense). Remember, you can't use lethal force just to defend property. On the other hand, check and see what coverage your homeowners policy might give for this sort of thing.

Art said at November 7, 2010 7:46 AM:

My semi-autonomis robot is named Glock 27.

Dan Watkins said at November 7, 2010 11:33 AM:

Infrasound. The attic of a typical ranch style house can be converted to a large folded horn, loading a long-stroke 18 inch woofer. Tune your signal generator to 17-19 Hz, and have fun watching your burglar melt down as he's followed by the surveillance Roomba.

kenh said at November 7, 2010 1:42 PM:

Boy, Randall, your really know how to pick the topics that excite the base!
Are people really that worried about robbery or vandalism? I suppose it is the combo of
high tech and vigilantism.

Randall Parker said at November 7, 2010 6:38 PM:

Sean Sorrentino,

The Fully Automatic Paintball Sentry gun sounds like fun.


Yes, I think you are right: high tech and vigilantism. Plus, some remember WestWorld. What could go wrong, go wrong, go wrong?


The law with regard to automated defenses is why I proposed allowing remote police operation. I realize that people do not want police to be able to shoot them remotely as well though.

Dan Watkins,

If the robot could get onto the robber fast enough then the infrasound could chase the robber out of the house before anything was stolen.

Engineer-Poet said at November 8, 2010 7:41 AM:

Infrasound may be a good way to halt home invasions, period.  This would be especially good for dealing with SWAT tactics, because putting the brakes on "dynamic entry" is probably the only way to stop "accidental" shootings before they happen.

Lono said at November 8, 2010 10:28 AM:


It is stories like this that make me seriously consider the small but real threat posed by psychopathic individuals:

If an intruder comes in to my home - he comes to meet his maker!

(and yes I'd rather spend some years in jail then allow this to happen to my family)

corbin said at April 22, 2015 3:35 AM:

The pace at which the world has been moving has been amazing. But do we really need these artificial intelligence now? This still qspray remains a question to be answered. I think the world is just too small for these AI to walk among us.

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