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Goofy-looking security guard robot runs Linux

Jun 19, 2014  |  Eric Brown
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GS4 unveiled an autonomous, Linux-based robot security guard called Bob, based on a MetraLabs “Scitos A5″ robot programmed by the University of Birmingham.

U.K.-based security firm GS4 Technology has launched a three week trial at its Gloucestershire headquarters of a robot called Bob that was designed by the University of Birmingham School of Computer Science. GS4 will evaluate Bob’s performance as a trainee security officer. Bob is part of a £7.2 million ($12.2 million) project called STRANDS, hosted by the University of Birmingham, with an aim of expanding the role of robots in the workplace.



Bob (left) is a customized version of the Scitos A5 (right)
(click images to enlarge)
[Image sources: dailymail.co.uk and South West News (left); MetraLabs (right)]

Bob, which is based on a Scitos A5 robot built by Germany-based MetroLabs, looks much like a stripped down, armless cousin of the Aldeberan-made Softbank Pepper robot, right down to the built-in tablet display. While the Pepper specializes in reading and responding to human emotion, however, Bob is trained for close observation of changes to a given environment.

Bob uses built-in 3D cameras and scanners to build a map of the robot’s patrol area. Like a growing number of mobile robots, it can identify objects and maneuver around them autonomously, and it knows when to report back to its docking station to charge its batteries. However, it also incorporates activity recognition algorithms to detect people’s movement, and can observe and draw conclusions about how the environment changes over time, says GS4. For example, Bob can identify where people go, or where and when objects appear or disappear, and it can detect whether fire doors are open or closed.

Bob can speak, but carries no weapons, let alone arms, so it’s not likely to apprehend a thief in the act. However, it can contact human guards who can. “Our human Security Officers carry out a very wide range of different tasks, many requiring on-the-spot decision making and the ability to react to unpredictable fast changing events,” stated David Ella, G4S Technology VP Product Marketing. “The STRANDS project isn’t going to produce a robot which can replace a human, but what it is going to do is support the security team by adding an additional patrolling resource… frequently carrying out routine checks and highlighting abnormal situations which require response from our security teams.”

A University of Birmingham rep confirmed that Bob runs Linux — Ubuntu, to be specific — and pointed us to the MetraLabs Scitos A5 as the bot design used by Bob. Images reproduced in the Daily Mail, above, show the Bob bot with a Scitos G5 logo, but Bob appears to be based on the more humanoid A5.

MetraLabs sells the Scitos A5 primarily as a mobile service robot for point-of-sale and exhibition booth applications. While Bob ended up with Ubuntu, the Scitos robots typically run Fedora Linux with SELinux extensions. The Scitos A5 uses an Intel Core 2 Duo processor. The Linux-on-x86 computing platform enables the Scitos A5 to easily integrate into existing communication networks for wireless data transfer, says MetraLabs.

The Scitos A5 measures about 1.5 meters tall and weighs about 75 kg. The robot is touted for its maintenance-free drive system, enabling “notably high torque, excellent driving capabilities, and at least walking speed,” says MetraLabs. The bot can operate for up to 20 hours between charges.



MetraLabs Scitos A5 RoboHead
(click image to enlarge)

The Scitos A5 has a 15-inch, 1024 x 768 touchscreen, dual 10W loudspeakers, and a microphone. The head and eyes of the separately available RoboHead can move with five degrees of freedom to provide somewhat human-like expressions. MetraLabs chose to keep the RoboHead interface rather cartoonish so users are reminded they “are still talking to a machine,” says the company. The head is further equipped with 32 LEDs to provide other feedback signals.

MetraLabs has no details on the mechanical foundation of the aluminum-constructed bot, which appears to be a fairly standard wheeled construction of the type seen in telepresence robots such as iRobot’s Ava 500. The HMI unit that holds the tablet can be equipped with other peripherals, including a laser-based barcode reader, mechanical pushbutton, or an ignition key, says the company.

Bob’s security guard programming, as implemented by the University of Birmingham School of Computer Science, is part of a STRANDS project that is attempting to develop intelligent autonomous behavior for periods of up to four months in human-populated environments. STRANDS robots are designed to extract quantitative and qualitative spatio-temporal structure from sensory experience, “building representations that allow them to understand and exploit the dynamics of everyday activities,” according to the university’s robotics page.

According to GS4, a similar robot called Werner has been fitted with somewhat different programming by the UofB robot programmers. Werner will be deployed in a care home institute in Vienna, Austria called Haus der Barmherzigkeit. Werner will perform many of the same security duties supported by Bob, but will also be able to play simple games with the home’s residents.

 
Further information

GS4 Technology did not say when it might deploy a Bob-like bot as part of a commercial security service. More information on Bob may be found at the GS4 announcement, the Daily Mail story, the University of Birmingham’s robotics page, and the MetraLabs Scitos A5 product page. A video of Bob in action may be found in this BBC News story.
 

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