frame grab from Aptonomy website
frame grab from Aptonomy website

“Security has been notified,” boomed a smooth voice from the aircraft’s twin loudspeakers. “This area is secured.”

I received the drone security guard treatment in a demonstration at the Aptonomy testing area on Treasure Island, an old naval base in San Francisco Bay. Cofounder Mihail Pivtoraiko says his drones will be ready to go on patrol next year. One construction company is already collaborating on test flights, and some oil refineries are also interested.

Each drone is just over a meter across and is built by adding custom electronics and sensors to an eight-propeller craft marketed for aerial photography. Aptonomy adds blue and red lights, and a white spotlight and two loudspeakers for confronting intruders. The drone captures video using conventional and night vision cameras.

When on duty, an Aptonomy drone will be programmed to patrol a set area automatically. When it spots an intruder, the drone will flash its warning lights, light the person with its spotlight and deliver a canned warning to retreat. A security guard in a control center would be notified, and the guard could take control of the drone and speak through it.

Ryan Calo, an assistant professor at the University of Washington who specializes in law and robotics, says that although the idea of drones confronting humans is unusual, he doesn’t foresee significant objections to the idea. “The beauty of this is that it would be in an environment where people shouldn’t be going,” he says.

One challenge for Aptonomy is that current U.S. airspace rules, recently updated to widen commercial drone use, don’t allow uncrewed aircraft to fly at night, or operate autonomously outside the sight of their pilot. Pivtoraiko believes his company has a good chance of getting a waiver because his drones would operate on well-secured private land.

The website adds the following information:

The co-founders both obtained PhDs in Robotics from The Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University — the world’s best robotics research facility. They later went on to work at other top of the line research institutions — UPenn, Harvard, NASA, Jet Propulsion Lab, Lockheed Martin, DARPA and Army Research Labs.

Obviously the guys are working hard to look legit – no doubt looking for funding.
Be interesting to see if the FAA grants a waiver for autonomous night flight. Not much of a step to aiming a targeting device on the intruder. Or to an intruder aiming a weapon at the roboguard. Or flying this over a civil disturbance. Fun times ahead.



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