Imagine walking into an office building and being greeted by a five-foot-tall, bullet-shaped robot. It announce you to the person you've come to visit and provides verbal directions to the elevator – all at the same time it's checking the ID badges of incoming employees. At night, this same unit patrols the hallways keeping a lookout for intruders.
This is no longer science fiction. Scenes like this are happening daily in buildings across the U.S. for decades, robotic devices have completed repetitive duties on assembly lines – doing so without the breaks or vacations required by humans. Law enforcement departments now use robots to examine situations such as bomb threats that are deemed too dangerous for a human officer to handle. Some police departments are receiving robots as part of a federal grant programs, such as the Escondido
police in San Diego received this year.
Others may have thermal imaging for low-light video, license plate recognition software to check parking lots for vehicles involved in a crime, or facial recognition allowing them to identify people entering the building. They can be used to detect excessive heat or water leaks. That's just a few of their capabilities.
Sensors atop and surrounding their exteriors keep them from running into things. Accelerometers similar to those found in smartphones and tablets provide balance. A GPS sensor help robots find their way across a campus quad. Despite all the technology, millions of people have seen the 2017 incident of a robot committing “suicide” in a Washington D.C. mall fountain.
While a fully equipped robot can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase, some manufacturers lease them for hourly rates less than those of their human counterparts.
According to a study by British think tank Reform, robots could potentially replace 90 percent of federal workers, a transition that would save the government and estimated $8 billion per year. Robots still lack the abilities property managers expect from their security guards. They don't have the emotional intelligence to placate an agitated person. And can't pursue a person up a staircase, nor are they designed to use force against a criminal.
For now, it's best to consider them as extra sets of eyes and ears to supplement humans. But each new generation of robots bring us closer to the days of the ‘Westworld’, where it's hard to tell who's human and who's not.