Is this technological tool the next force multiplier?

The activities of searching, scanning and detection offer their greatest reward in improving officer safety. But legal restraints, however, will always inhibit the usefulness of robots in searching or scanning for something, particularly if there is no warrant. Even if there is a warrant, other than when investigating a hazardous environment, such as a meth lab, most robot searches would not be very useful or an improvement over human searches. Even so, the ability to "smartly" scan in order to keep the officer safe from harm seems to be a good area for concentration.

"Smart" scanning refers to the ability of the robot to know when and where to scan, to avoid providing information protected by privacy laws. The officer would require the ability to command a scan or override one.

"Smart" scanning would be most useful in situations such as a domestic disturbance where the officer must separate the parties but also needs to put them in "safe" areas. Here the robot would excel at identifying potential problems or providing assurance of a protected area sweep. Alternatively, using the robot to rapidly search large complex areas such as a warehouse also shows its positive attributes.

The thinking robot's ability to access public area video cameras and databases, providing instant online capabilities and giving a broader view in terms of both information and sight, is beyond comparison with what is done today. The robot's autonomy allows it to intelligently peruse these data sources without requiring an officer's attention unless something vital is discovered.

Employing such robots for surveillance and recording tend to improve productivity and accuracy more so than safety. Being able to deploy a robot to stakeout a location and intelligently notify an officer of a notable situation is a tremendous boon to productivity. Furthermore, the ease of concealment and long periods without attention make the use of robots for surveillance a superior solution.

Recording would apply to both surveillance as well as general activities. While assigned to the officer, just like is done for vehicles during a traffic stop, such robots would be able to record activity upon command or once an event trigger occurs.

In squad cars, when the officer activates the lightbar the recording system turns on. For a robot the triggers would be quite varied but basically would operate in a very similar fashion. Having a video and audio time-stamped record would aid in creating reports, providing evidence, and also cutting back on nuisance items such as citizen complaints.

The potential for direct linkage into public area video systems would apply to surveillance as well as searching and scanning as previously noted. Here the robot is able to get a bigger picture and thus able to be more productive in its observations.

With today's high-tech criminals, officers need more tools to keep them operating safely and effectively. But they do not necessarily require more tools needing individual operation. In fact, in the future, the largest improvements to officer safety and productivity will likely be driven by tools, such as autonomous robots, that seem to "think" for themselves.

Joseph Weiss has held various engineering, general management and business development positions at RCA, GE and ARINC. He has extensive experience with architecting, marketing, winning, developing and producing information technology intensive systems for mission-critical use. Currently he is a technology and market research consultant for the federal, state and local marketplaces and is associated with the market research firm EMSI out of Alexandria, Virginia. He can be contacted via e-mail at

TABLE 1 - Robotic generations
1st - 1985 2nd - 1995 3rd - 2005
Intellect Repetitive Programming Sensor Feedback Decision Capable
Typical Task Assembly Hazmat Military
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