TechSec Solutions 2017 keynote: Drones, robots and things that go bump in the night

Nightingale Security’s Jack Wu discusses drones in security, along with a live stream demo
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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

DELRAY BEACH, Fla.—Attendees of TechSec Solutions 2017 started the first morning of the conference here with a look into one drone company, and how the technology could innovate the physical security market, making for cheaper, better and faster solutions.

“There are two kinds of change. The first kind is ‘incremental.’ Like small waves on a shore, the impact of incremental changes are hard to measure at first but [they] add up over time. The second kind is ‘major’—and, like a tidal wave, it can disrupt an entire industry,” Jack Wu, co-founder and CEO of Nightingale Security, said. “Today, I’m here to talk about the major change robotics is bringing to the physical security [industry].”

A “tidal wave” of change, which will impacted the entire physical security market, was created by a perfect storm of four factors, according to Wu: small and energy efficient microchips, software, rising labor costs and limited human capabilities, and the Internet.

There are drones that function on land, such as with Knightscope, in the water with Sea Wasp, Wu said. “Up in there air, there’s us: Nightingale. We provide a service called robotic aerial security. It’s a fully autonomous drone infrastructure system of base stations, drones and software. It provides autonomous, 24/7 physical security by using real-time aerial surveillance and data gathering.”

Robotic aerial security, or RAS, should work with other elements of the physical security industry, Wu said. “It can integrate with existing VMS, PISM, alarms and sensors–elevating the usefulness of the existing security infrastructure as a whole. For the first time, you’ll have a tool, providing real-time situational awareness, day or night, from almost anywhere at your facility.”

“One of the first services that we see that’s going to be affected is manned security,” Wu said. Human guards perform a variety of tasks, Wu continued, listing patrolling, investigating alarms that may be false, and evicting trespassers from the premises—tasks which could put a person in danger.

“Some of those tasks can be done cheaper, faster and better by drones. … Through their introduction of automation, we reduce costs while adding new capabilities,” he said.

“Let’s take a look at … cheaper, faster, better in the context of physical security. Cheaper: A drone can cost you less because it doesn’t have a mortgage, car payment, health insurance or food expenses. It happily works weekends, it never complains or talks bad about a co-worker,” he said.

Wu continued, “Best of all, when it gets there, it’s going to do a better job. It’s going to record everything and stream that to everybody that’s on the security team, and it sees in the dark [with thermal capabilities].”

“In addition to improving margins by reducing your costs, we’re also going to help you set foot in new markets,” Wu said. Drones can assist companies even outside of their security applications, according to Wu.

“With robotic aerial security, the data that we gather is useful to construction, logistics, infrastructure inspection and surveys,” he said. “Now, that piece of infrastructure that you have on a customer’s rooftop—that intelligent drone—can now be called upon to do other things.”

On a projector, Wu set up a live-streamed demo with several other Nightingale Security team members in the company’s home state of California. Wu controlled the drone from a tablet here in Florida.

When the video feed came up, one attendee said it was lucky that it wasn’t raining during the demo. Wu responded: “We love the rain, it flies in the rain. … It really shows the product in its element.”

Wu asked the drone to fly directly through a couple of no-fly zones pre-designated for the demo, to show how the drone intuitively avoids such areas while flying between marked points. He showed the audience different camera feeds‑including a thermal FLIR camera.

Wu discussed several deployment scenarios for physical security applications. “[One] is autonomous threat response—or ATR. When there is an alarm, the system will automatically dispatch a drone to the alarm’s location and it will start streaming live video to the guards that [are] locally on shift or to a GSOC anywhere in the world.”

“The second scenario is scheduled autonomous patrols, [where] you can set repeatable autonomous missions by programming the path, the altitude—you can even program at a certain point of industry. You could have it stop, circle, hover.” he continued.

“The third scenario is manual surveillance missions. For major events, such as a fire, oil spill, chemical leak or active shooter, you can manually dispatch a drone. This way you have situational awareness and … if it’s a person [causing the event] it’ll be able to follow the person.”

RAS has applications in oil and gas, critical infrastructure, solar farms and corporate campuses. “The common denominator is that they all have large perimeters and something important to protect,” Wu said.

Robotic aerial security requires several key things, Wu said, it need to be autonomous, integrated with other systems, cybersecure with encrypted VPN access, safe and reliable and future proof. Nightingale stays future proof through its “robot-as-a-service” subscription model, which covers customers’ maintenance, repairs and upgrades, according to Wu.

“Autonomous operation is our core value proposition—it is also fundamental tenet of robotics,” he said. Automations requires intelligence, such as calling for another drone when one that is in flight needs to return to recharge.

“Robots should perform certain tasks on their own so that humans can focus on making decisions,” he said. “Those are just some of the things that we’re working on in Nightingale: combining intelligent, interconnected robots with the decision and judgment of human beings. It’s teamwork: humans and robot—the new meaning of ‘we.’”

“Machines still need to learn from human confirmation of what a threat looks likes. Humans must still make high-level decisions.” Wu compared the human and drone relationship to the parent and child relationship in terms of teaching it scenarios or anomalies to look for.

An attendee asked Wu where Nightingale is headed in the future, and he made some sweeping predictions. “Eventually, all companies will evolve into a data company, because data is what you will need to teach your AIs,” Wu said. “It doesn’t matter how smart, it doesn’t matter how much potential this robot has, it needs to learn from somewhere.” Nightingale, Wu continued, will continue to use data to help its drones learn.

Nightingale’s current drones can fly for up to 30 minutes, they take 45 minutes to recharge, they can fly up to 60 miles per hour and have five sensor options, including RGB, visible light, infrared, thermal and LIDAR. The company is working on including HAZMAT sensors in 2017, said Wu. The company uses 3D printing for its drone frames; its drones weigh about 11 pounds, depending on the type of sensor installed.

Nightingale’s applications range in size from a residential property about three acres to mining companies with 10 square miles. Nightingale is currently considering channel partners.