G4S, the security solutions group, have enrolled a new recruit this month when a robot from the University of Birmingham joined its workforce as a trainee security officer on a three week trial.

Bob at G4S

The robot, called Bob, is carrying out tasks such as patrolling the offices, and monitoring the environment, checking doors are closed and that desks are clear.

This is the first time that an autonomous robot has been deployed in a working office environment to do a real job.

Bob is a very sophisticated robot because the research team has developed the software that enables him to process all the information he needs to map and navigate his environment. Using cameras and scanners he is able to create a map of his surrounding area, identifying desks, chairs and other objects that he must negotiate when he is moving around, as well as detecting people’s movement through activity recognition.

While Bob carries out his duties, he will also be gathering information about his surroundings and learning about how the environment changes over time – for example, where people go to, where objects appear, whether fire doors are open or closed. He will also know when to report to his docking station to charge up his batteries.

Bob is part of the £7.2 million STRANDS project where robots will learn how to act intelligently and independently in real-world environments, supporting security officers or care home assistants, while understanding 3D space and how this changes over time from milliseconds to months.

Dr Nick Hawes, from the School of Computer Science at the University of Birmingham, who leads the STRANDS project, said: ‘We wanted to build an autonomous intelligent robot that can be put into a real world scenario like a place of work. Current robots aren’t very good with their hands, or able to manipulate objects, however Bob is good at driving around and monitoring objects, so is perfect for a job in security as a night or day watchman where he can monitor what is going on in his immediate surroundings.

He continued: ‘We want to see Bob survive on his own for up to 15 days, doing jobs that are useful for security, for example, checking whether fire doors are obstructed, whether there is paper on desks.’

’G4S became involved in the STRANDS project to help guide academic researchers into the future needs of the security industry and our customers. G4S are involved in various security solutions which combine people and technology, and in this case we wanted to make sure that the security robot of the future carries out useful tasks and really adds value,’ said David Ella, G4S Technology VP Product Marketing. 

He continued: ‘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. 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. This will add huge value for our customers by frequently carrying out routine checks and highlighting abnormal situations which require response from our security teams.’

Simultaneously, a similar robot called Werner, will be deployed in a care home environment in Austria (Haus der Barmherzigkeit in Vienna). Werner will carry out similar duties to Bob, but he is also able to play simple games with residents in the home in order to foster a connection between him and the people he works around. 

The research team on the STRANDS project include the University of Birmingham, University of Lincoln, Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan, Rheinisch-Westfäische Technische Hochschule Aachen, ACIN Technische Universität Vienna, University of Leeds and Akademie für Altersforschung am Haus der Barmherzigkeit, and G4S Technology Ltd.

For further information please contact Kate Chapple at the University of Birmingham press office on +44 (0)121 414 2772 or 07789 921164. For out of hours enquiries please email the Press Office or call +44 (0)7789921165