School security: AI, robots, biometrics are the future

The recent school shooting in the United States opened the door for debate on school security. Following the tragedy at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, politicians, community leaders, law enforcement and students rushed into the debate on school safety, by focusing on old solutions to school security, calling for gun control, armed teachers, more security forces in the school, armed presence and intrusive detection systems. Politicians, parents and the community at large have been divided on the issue, as the perceived need for speed of action has outweighed more subtle, technological security options.

The scientific and engineering communities, however, are proposing potentially far more effective and less intrusive methods of monitoring, warning and protecting schools. Solutions are available using new biometric security processes, artificial intelligence (AI) and mobile telepresence robots, costing far less to implement and offering reduced psychological damage to children, faculty and administrators, all while returning schools to tranquil places of learning. Emerging and current state-of-the-art capabilities could be incorporated in new “Telebot” platforms to secure schools.

Biometrics: Unobtrusive, non-invasive biometrics can provide physical identification for entry and access into classrooms and school grounds. The first and perhaps easiest to implement would be a fingerprint or palmprint reader requiring students to place their hand into the scanner to enter the school grounds. If not authenticated, the control centre could, through the use of telepresence video and audio, perform a second authentication and allow interaction with designated security personnel. Cameras could provide iris scans as well for authentication or analyse student gaits while approaching the school for entry. Encryption of the biometric data would ensure security of the data from breaches into the main databases themselves.

Audio: Voice recognition and interactive voice response from the office or control centre is a key to telepresence. Imagine a smart speaker recognition system that responds to a voice call to the mascot, “Hey eagle!” and can then authenticate the voice while responding to the student’s request for school entry, or in answer to “What’s on the cafeteria menu,” or any school associated event.

Unobtrusive Video: Unobtrusive video with facial recognition has already become commonplace in many facilities. By combining rapid facial recognition analysis as part of the overall implementation of multiple sensor systems, campuses could be secured without the feeling that students and faculty are being monitored continuously.

Telepresence Robot Patrols: An enhanced telepresence robot is so much more than a videoconferencing screen mounted on a moving base for use in the company setting. Florida International University School of Computing and Information Sciences, as well as many other research facilities, have been focusing for the past few years on development of telepresence robots which can be used by and controlled by injured police officers to save their valuable experience, while providing low-cost robotic alternatives to augment police and security forces. These remotely-controlled, wireless, interactive robots with rapidly reconfigurable hardware/software architectures can incorporate the best of current AI while remaining under the control of trained security forces. The telepresence robots provide a complete sensor suite, enabling safe entry into potentially denied areas, and rapid dispatch of a threat through lethal or non-lethal means.

Researchers are advancing these low-cost telepresence robots by developing systems with only moderate onboard intelligence while maintaining high capabilities through offboard wireless technologies. Benefits of these types of robots include low-cost, simple control and low to no fear of intelligent robots breaking free to wreak havoc on the streets outside.

Development of these low-cost telebots include rapid and multiple integrations into community police and security forces while providing a force multiplier of police and security presence in the community. These robots can be used to perform a variety of non-lethal tasks, as well as the biometric identification tasks previously discussed, through the integration of multiple sensor systems. The data provided can be quickly and easily integrated and analysed at the school control centre, offering opportunities for immediate decision-making, as well as transmitting the information to local law enforcement authorities, first-responders and community authorities.

Practical deployment in school settings will require robust telebots with high manoeuvrability, long battery life, simple yet highly reliable wireless connectivity to the school’s command centre. Telebots themselves must be made robust, through construction by flexible, highly durable materials like those researchers are producing using new fibre reinforced composites.

One example is Hokkaido University’s new fibre comprised by combining hydrogels with glass fibres producing a bendable, resilient yet soft material with five times the strength of steel. Research underway on the next phase of tele-bot manoeuvrability, demonstrating improvements through stochastic motion planning.

A robust, integrated communication suite with wireless communications and a tele-bot operating network can already be secured from attacks by a variety of methods. Implementation would require a complete analysis of the requirements and vulnerabilities within existing communication structures.

To maintain these communications and sensors, a long-life, easily recharged and low-cost battery solution will need to be developed. Advances in modern batteries are well underway, such as development of gold nanowire batteries in a gel electrolyte enabling multiple recharging without degradation. While current solid-state lithium-ion batteries offer stability, they come at the cost of electrolyte transmissions. New advances in development of solid-state batteries using sulphide super-ionic conductors allow battery operations at super-capacitor levels, completely charging or discharging in less than seven minutes, which would provide an ideal battery for telebots, offering more stability and safety than current batteries.

Telepresence robots designed with schools in mind could provide pleasing, entertaining, and educational devices, easily accepted into the school community without fear of disrupting classroom activities or the educational environment.

(Iyengar is Ryder Professor and Director, School of Computing and Information Sciences, Florida International University (FIU); Miller is Associate Director, Robotics and Wireless Systems, at Discovery Lab, FIU; Madni is a Distinguished Adjunct Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, UCLA)

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School security: AI, robots, biometrics are the future

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