2010 November 08 Monday
Personal Flying Drones

When you walk out of the house out of reach of your home guard robots you won't have to leave behind the advantages of machine companions. A Wall Street Journal article reports several of the efforts to create miniature flying drones (cheaper unmanned aerial vehicles for individual use) will reach project completion in 2011.

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, professor and former Navy fighter pilot Missy Cummings is working with her students to build a "Personal Sentry" drone. Under a military contract with Boeing Corp., her goal is to develop a drone the size of a pizza box with small propellers that can watch a soldier's back on the battlefield. When a drone sees approaching danger, it will buzz a warning to a soldier's cellphone.

But the real prize may be in civilian applications. "The military stuff is kind of passe," Ms. Cummings said. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist from MIT to tell you if we can do it for a soldier in the field, we can do it for anybody."

After the military the earlier adopters are expected to include celebrity-stalking paparazzi photographers.

Where I see this going: The total surveillance society where individuals do as much surveilling as corporations and governments. Declining costs of computers and other things small means surveillance for the masses.

Surveillance robots, whether on the ground or in the air, can serve a lot of useful purposes. MIT's Missy Cummings sees parents using small flying drones accompanying children as they walk to school. People walking thru dangerous neighborhoods might feel safer with a guard drone overhead that a cell phone could signal to report a video feed when someone pulls a gun or knife. Or the drone could scan for other humans at night (using IR) to identify which streets look more or less dangerous to walk down. A drone could also be controllable to direct a very bright light at an approaching assailant.

The ability of surveillance drones to record high-res images could be combined with a wireless link to a criminal face matching computer server. So convicted rapists and muggers could be identified. Crowd sourcing becomes a real possibility. Many different personally owned drones could (along with cameras mounted in cars and outside of stores and houses) all pass info to servers that could then track the movement of known dangerous people (why they are out on the street is another subject). Also, after a crime is committed as soon as, say, a victim of rape or robbery reports the crime all recent drone feed logs in the vicinity could be scoured to identify possible suspects and start tracking them. Neighborhood watches could signal people to all send out their drones to do a massive sweep of the area.

I can imagine flying drones being sent off to a drug store to land on the roof to be loaded with a drug prescription or other light item. The energy costs would probably be lower than the energy costs of driving a car to the store. Wouldn't work for a large grocery load. But would work for trips to get smaller items.

A bigger flying drone operated by, say, Starbucks or 7/11 could deliver coffee to a number of houses on a route. Or how about drones that deliver newspapers? A delivery truck could drive along with a flat bed where the drones lift off and deliver newspapers down side streets. Reduced labor costs, faster delivery.

By Randall Parker    2010 November 08 07:45 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (14)
2010 November 03 Wednesday
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?

By Randall Parker    2010 November 03 11:16 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (24)
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