The best route to greater adoption of robotics in the field of physical security is intellectual honesty, says Travis Deyle, CEO and co-founder of Cobalt Robotics. “Robots are not a panacea, so we must be clear and honest about capabilities and use cases,” he says. “If you are dishonest, people will lose faith. We must have clear expectations about what’s feasible today and possible tomorrow.”

The robotics tide is turning in the security market, which is notoriously slow to embrace new technologies. “The tone has changed at recent security events,” says Deyle. “Previously, robots were thought of as a science experiment. But now, there are big-name users wanting to discuss proof of concept. It has evolved from being a novelty to now it’s time to give it a serious look. They want us to help them sell the concept up the chain of command. It’s helpful to have conversations with other parts of the company because it has an impact on the culture of the company.” The robotics tide is turning in the security market, which is notoriously slow to embrace new technologies

Cobalt’s robots are purpose-built for a specific use case: providing after-hours support and security for corporate locations. Indoor environments, confined and controlled, present fewer navigation challenges for robots, which can quickly become familiar with the surroundings and navigate easily through an office space. Indoor robots can provide benefits beyond security, too, such as facility management, promoting employee health and safety, and emergency response.

Cobalt's human-centred design

Cobalt’s robots also interact well with people. They are friendly and approachable and make employees feel safe and secure. The human-centered design promotes that interaction, and a real person (located remotely) can enter into any interaction instantly as needed. “We combine machines with people,” says Deyle. “We allow the machine to do what it does best, such as dull and boring activities, and add the flexibility and cultural relevancy of having a person there.” Cobalt’s robots also interact well with people, they are friendly and approachable and make employees feel safe and secure

When a robot is deployed, it performs a brief mapping phase (about an hour), in which it moves around and builds up a “map” of its space and develops its patrol route. Over time, it lingers more in areas where it encounters more incidents. There are 60 sensors on the robot, including day/night cameras, high-resolution thermal cameras, a card reader that integrates with the corporate access control system, a microphone, and environmental sensors for temperature and humidity. 

The robot builds models of what’s normal in its environment in terms of people, sound, motion, open doors and windows, and even leaks and spills. And then it detects anomalies and sends relevant notifications to Cobalt specialists, who respond and manage any events in real time. The machine provides unwavering attention, perfect recall, and accountability.

Cobalt indoor robots with AI
Cobalt robots have been designed to help bridge the problems faced with utilising guards and cameras 

Accommodating various anomalies 

The Cobalt robot is designed to blend into a high-end office environment, with flexible fabric and a corporate design aesthetic. It is stable beyond 45-degrees, so it’s hard to topple over. The 5-foot-2-inch robot can see over desks and cubicles. It is designed to bridge the gap between guards, who are expensive and underutilised during uneventful night shifts, and cameras, which are unable to respond to nuanced situations. Cobalt Robotics already has customers in defense, finance and manufacturing, and a handful of Fortune 500 companies are looking at the service

Autonomous navigation uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to avoid static and dynamic obstacles. Over time, the robot accommodates various anomalies such as loud machinery noise, and “semantic mapping” adds intelligence to its map. When the robot figures out that a picture on the wall is not a real person, for example, it stores that information for future reference. 

The technologies enabling robotics in the indoor environment are mature – there have been variations of security robots in operation for decades. What has changed is the costs of the technologies, which are now inexpensive enough to make a robot affordable to businesses. Cobalt Robotics offers an all-inclusive service providing hardware, software, service and maintenance as well as the remote human interface. All together, the service is a third to half the cost of a man-guard, and it bills monthly, says Deyle. Cobalt Robotics offers an all-inclusive service providing hardware, software, service and maintenance as well as the remote human interface

Cobalt Robotics already has customers in defense, finance and manufacturing, and a handful of Fortune 500 companies are looking at the service. They are currently operational in the San Francisco Bay area and Chicago and will be in six other geographies in the next three months (in response to customer needs). Uses include offices, museums, warehouses, technology centres, and innovation centres. 

A former Google employee, Deyle’s experience in robotics goes back to his Ph.D. studies at Georgia Tech, where he worked on developing a robot to deliver healthcare to homebound patients. Deyle and Cobalt Robotics co-founder Erik Schluntz departed Google in 2016 to form Cobalt Robotics. In just 12 months, Cobalt went from the initial idea to paid robot deployments.

Share with LinkedIn Share with Twitter Share with Facebook Share with Facebook
Download PDF version

Author profile

Larry Anderson Editor, SecurityInformed.com & SourceSecurity.com

An experienced journalist and long-time presence in the US security industry, Larry is SourceSecurity.com's eyes and ears in the fast-changing security marketplace, attending industry and corporate events, interviewing security leaders and contributing original editorial content to the site. He leads SourceSecurity.com's team of dedicated editorial and content professionals, guiding the "editorial roadmap" to ensure the site provides the most relevant content for security professionals.

In case you missed it

Managing security during unprecedented times of home working
Managing security during unprecedented times of home working

Companies are following government guidance and getting as many people as possible working from home. Some companies will have resisted home working in the past, but I’m certain that the sceptics will find that people can be productive with the right tools no matter where they are. A temporary solution will become permanent. But getting it right means managing risk. Access is king In a typical office with an on-premise data centre, the IT department has complete control over network access, internal networks, data, and applications. The remote worker, on the other hand, is mobile. He or she can work from anywhere using a VPN. Until just recently this will have been from somewhere like a local coffee shop, possibly using a wireless network to access the company network and essential applications. CV-19 means that huge numbers of people are getting access to the same desktop and files, and collaborative communication toolsBut as we know, CV-19 means that huge numbers of people are getting access to the same desktop and files, applications and collaborative communication tools that they do on a regular basis from the office or on the train. Indeed, the new generation of video conferencing technologies come very close to providing an “almost there” feeling. Hackers lie in wait Hackers are waiting for a wrong move amongst the panic, and they will look for ways to compromise critical servers. Less than a month ago, we emerged from a period of chaos. For months hackers had been exploiting a vulnerability in VPN products from Pulse Secure, Fortinet, Palo Alto Networks, and Citrix. Patches were provided by vendors, and either companies applied the patch or withdrew remote access. As a result, the problem of attacks died back.  But as companies race to get people working from home, they must ensure special care is taken to ensure the patches are done before switching VPNs on. That’s because remote desktop protocol (RDP) has been for the most part of 2019, and continues to be, the most important attack vector for ransomware. Managing a ransomware attack on top of everything else would certainly give you sleepless nights. As companies race to get people working from home, they must ensure special care is taken to ensure the patches are done before switching VPNs on Hackers are waiting for a wrong move amongst the panic, and they will look for ways to compromise critical serversExposing new services makes them also susceptible to denial of service attacks. Such attacks create large volumes of fake traffic to saturate the available capacity of the internet connection. They can also be used to attack the intricacies of the VPN protocol. A flow as little as 1Mbps can perturbate the VPN service and knock it offline. CIOs, therefore, need to acknowledge that introducing or extending home working broadens the attack surface. So now more than ever it’s vital to adapt risk models. You can’t roll out new services with an emphasis on access and usability and not consider security. You simply won’t survive otherwise. Social engineering Aside from securing VPNs, what else should CIO and CTOs be doing to ensure security? The first thing to do is to look at employee behaviour, starting with passwords. It’s highly recommended that strong password hygiene or some form of multi-factor authentication (MFA) is imposed. Best practice would be to get all employees to reset their passwords as they connect remotely and force them to choose a new password that complies with strong password complexity guidelines.  As we know, people have a habit of reusing their passwords for one or more online services – services that might have fallen victim to a breach. Hackers will happily It’s highly recommended that strong password hygiene or some form of multi-factor authentication (MFA) is imposedleverage these breaches because it is such easy and rich pickings. Secondly, the inherent fear of the virus makes for perfect conditions for hackers. Sadly, a lot of phishing campaigns are already luring people in with the promise of important or breaking information on COVID-19. In the UK alone, coronavirus scams cost victims over £800,000 in February 2020. A staggering number that can only go up. That’s why CIOs need to remind everyone in the company of the risks of clickbait and comment spamming - the most popular and obvious bot techniques for infiltrating a network. Notorious hacking attempts And as any security specialist will tell you, some people have no ethics and will exploit the horrendous repercussions of CV-19. In January we saw just how unscrupulous hackers are when they started leveraging public fear of the virus to spread the notorious Emotet malware. Emotet, first detected in 2014, is a banking trojan that primarily spreads through ‘malspam’ and attempts to sneak into computers to steal sensitive and private information. In addition, in early February the Maze ransomware crippled more than 230 workstations of the New Jersey Medical Diagnostics Lab and when they refused to pay, the vicious attackers leaked 9.5GB or research data in an attempt to force negotiations. And in March, an elite hacking group tried to breach the World Health Organization (WHO). It was just one of the many attempts on WHO and healthcare organisations in general since the pandemic broke. We’ll see lots more opportunist attacks like this in the coming months.   More speed less haste In March, an elite hacking group tried to breach the World Health Organization (WHO). It was just one of the many attempts on WHOFinally, we also have bots to contend with. We’ve yet to see reports of fake news content generated by machines, but we know there’s a high probability it will happen. Spambots are already creating pharmaceutical spam campaigns thriving on the buying behaviour of people in times of fear from infection. Using comment spamming – where comments are tactically placed in the comments following an update or news story - the bots take advantage of the popularity of the Google search term ‘Coronavirus’ to increase the visibility and ranking of sites and products in search results. There is clearly much for CIOs to think about, but it is possible to secure a network by applying some well thought through tactics. I believe it comes down to having a ‘more speed, less haste’ approach to rolling out, scaling up and integrating technologies for home working, but above all, it should be mixed with an employee education programme. As in reality, great technology and a coherent security strategy will never work if it is undermined by the poor practices of employees.

How does audio enhance security system performance?
How does audio enhance security system performance?

Video is widely embraced as an essential element of physical security systems. However, surveillance footage is often recorded without sound, even though many cameras are capable of capturing audio as well as video. Beyond the capabilities of cameras, there is a range of other audio products on the market that can improve system performance and/or expand capabilities (e.g., gunshot detection.) We asked this week’s Expert Panel Roundtable: How does audio enhance the performance of security and/or video systems? 

How have standards changed the security market?
How have standards changed the security market?

A standard is a document that establishes uniform engineering or technical criteria, methods, processes, and/or practices. Standards surround every aspect of our business. For example, the physical security marketplace is impacted by industry standards, national and international standards, quality standards, building codes and even environmental standards, to name just a few. We asked this week’s Expert Panel Roundtable: How have standards changed the security market as we know it?