Telebot and cyber security concerns of a new future

Telebot and cyber security concerns of a new future

Telebot and cyber security concerns of a new future
The field of robotics has expanded enormously in the past two decades and will continue to do so far into the foreseeable future. Stationary, industrial robots are now incorporated in nearly every aspect of manufacturing and assembly line production where they are used to cut and mould parts, conduct inspections and assemble pieces.

Mobile robots have been developed to conduct tasks in environments which could expose humans to a variety of risks such as inspections in industrial areas handling hazardous chemicals, potential nuclear radiation leaks, and deep underwater marine environments. Other areas in which robots may ultimately provide significant assista-nce in protecting humans from risks to their health and well-being include conducting humanitarian and disaster relief operations.

The United States Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has for several years now conducted robotics challenges to promote innovation in human supervised robotic technology for disaster response operations. The DARPA’s stated technical goal for these robotic competitions is, “…To develop human supervised ground robots capable of executing complex tasks in dangerous, degraded, human-engineered environments.” These robots are required to use standard tools and equipment such as hand tools and vehicles currently employed by humans to conduct these disaster operations.

Robots have even expanded into space exploration. The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has begun testing robots for use on future moon and mars explorations. These tests are essential in assessing new ideas for rovers, spacewalks and ground support vehicles in remote, hostile environment such as deep space, where temperatures, as well as surfaces can be extreme.

However, one of the most important expanding areas for the use of mobile robots is the use of semi-autonomous robots for military and law enforcement activities. While scenarios such as inspection of hazardous areas and monitoring of barricaded suspects, or serving high risk warrants have been considered for law enforcement, by far the most common use of robots in military and law enforcement activities to date has been in the area of bomb disposal.

Other scenarios for robots have included reconnaissance in tunnels and storm drains, as well as surveillance at airports and seaports, conducting searches for criminals and lost persons, providing site security, and use as a public reception and information dispenser. Each of these robots is specialised to perform their current tasks.

Florida International University’s (FIU) Discovery Lab, a research lab within the School of Computing and Information Sciences (SCIS), has been conducting research into the use of a fully integrated, telepresence robot to act as an avatar for injured law enforcement officers. Student researchers under the guidance of faculty mentors have created a six-foot tall, 80-pound life-sized avatar to conduct a variety of law enforcement activities.

The robot, known as “Telebot” is a telepresence robot which uses video cameras for its eyes, as well as an integrated sonar in its nose to detect and focus its eyes on the presence of both obstacles and people in its path. Telebot is also equipped with a voice command system, enabling the robot to speak and to listen for commands, as well as inte-ract with the public. Operated and contr-olled remotely by a law enforcement officer, Telebot enables an injured law enforcement officer to continue to perform their duties.

Telepresence robots

Currently, when a law enforcement official is injured in the line of duty, with a prolonged outlook for medical rehabilitation, or if an officer is unable to meet previous physical fitness requirements, the officer is medically retired, ending both the officers career, and the community’s access to the officer’s vital experience. This is often devastating news to the officers, who lose not only their livelihoods, but also their self-esteem.

Telepresence robots, the new future for law enforcement, will allow these officers to continue to serve in a capacity where their wide and varied experience can be used most effectively in a complete array of community service. Using a variety of sensors to detect inputs from the controlling officer, Telebot is able to respond and act on behalf of the officer. In addition, Telebot is a semi-autonomous robot with artificial intelligence, meaning that he not only responds to commands and controls from the disabled officer, but can respond to threats, obstacles and people within its deployed environment and learn on its own.

This provides protection for the Telebot, as well as people and property within its path, or around it. For example, if a young child should approach Telebot from behind, while its video vision and hence the operator’s vision is focused to the front, sensors will warn Telebot about the approaching child, so he does not inadvertently swing an arm in the child’s direction and injure the child. As humans, we sometimes sense that someone is approaching us from the rear or side, but too often, our senses fail and we turn into the person knocking them, or ourselves to the ground.

Hollywood movies have highlighted the potential for evil runaway droids to use their autonomy and artificial intelligence to take the law into their own hands. However, these scenarios are far-fetched. But they do highlight the need for integrated cyber security to prevent evil humans from creating havoc by taking control of semiautonomous robots.

Obviously, the vast array of sensors and sensor systems incorporated into Telebot are susceptible to the same cyber security concerns as other devices working across the Internet. To prevent disruption of service, researchers are integrating advanced cyber security designs into the software and hardware controllers, as well as signal transmission and reception components for Telebot. Both telepresence robots and cyber security will continue to advance and integrate rapidly. In the near future our world may become a safer place due to deployment of robots like Telebot.

(Iyengar is a distinguished Ryder Professor and Director, School of Computing and Information Sciences, Miami; Miller has been with US Air Force for over two decades and is Coordinator, Discovery Lab, Florida International University)
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