A trio of emerging technologies has been the focus of increasing attention recently, both in public circles and in private industries such as commercial security. As the trend toward autonomous security unfolds, customer demand for surveillance drones, security robots and airspace security systems (drone detection and monitoring) may eventually affect many more security integrators than it does today. Some matters that integrators should keep a watchful eye on are new system introductions, end-user adoption of these technologies to address threats, and laws and regulations that impact how these systems are used.

Security integrators are at various stages of everything from learning about robot and drone-based solutions to reselling them. Some are fully onboard with one or more, having already made several impactful sales; while others are still exploring the technologies and how they might make a viable business opportunity. One aspect that weighs prominently are the myriad regulations for the use of, particularly, drones. Integrators want more direction on how to deploy and use them for security, as well as updated legislation about what can be done once a suspicious drone is detected.

Convergint Looking at Autonomous Solutions

Schaumburg, Ill.-based Convergint, a global integrator ranked No. 1 on SDM’s 2023 Top Systems Integrators Report, is currently engaged only in drone detection, but anticipates also selling security robots and surveillance drones by the end of this year.

humanoid robot by 1X
ADT says its humanoid robot by 1X, part of ADT Commercial’s new EvoGuard business, is just the beginning of what the future of the guarding space could look like as it provides an opportunity to streamline guard forces through technology. // IMAGE COURTESY OF ADT COMMERCIAL

Most of Convergint’s drone detection sales have been in the correctional industry segment (although demand is growing from utilities, ports, oil and gas sites, etc.), because contraband delivery using drones is a significant threat, says Scott Frigaard, Convergint’s digital transformation autonomous lead. The contraband being delivered includes drugs, weapons, cell phones, tobacco and other similar items.

Frigaard describes the contraband-via-drone operators as “very sophisticated, very profitable enterprises.” As new detection solutions and mitigation tactics are introduced, the drone operators quickly adapt by flying drones from manufacturers that aren’t included in a detection system’s “library” of detectable devices, or by using homemade drones that don’t send any wireless communication.

“Most of the customers we talk to still don’t understand that there are limitations on what they’re able to do. The first question we usually get is, ‘I know I’m getting drones over my chemical facility. I want to shoot them down.’ We have to work them through what the reality of response capabilities are.”
— Scott Frigaard, Convergint

Convergint has seen an increase drone size, which increases their payload capacity. They have also seen more swarm attacks, which means additional drones are introduced into the airspace until the detection system can no longer track the drone carrying the payload. Another tactic is operators will fly decoy drones to one part of a facility to distract corrections officers and then drop the payload in another part.

“It is a constantly evolving threat scenario,” Frigaard says.

In these applications in the United States, once a nefarious drone is detected, there are more actions that cannot be taken than can be. There are some instances in the U.S. where a counter-uncrewed aerial system (C-UAS) can be used, but that is in the hands of the federal government Department of Justice and other federal entities with authority to designate SEAR 1 through 5 events, and those are usually critical infrastructure or Department of Defense sites, explains Bill Edwards, chair of Security Industry Association’s Counter-UAS working group and president of federal and public safety at Building Intelligence, New York.

“C-UAS systems can be employed in the U.S., but only under specific circumstances that are approved by the government. A stadium that’s hosting 60,000 people at a football game right now does not have the authority to use a C-UAS technology unless that stadium has been designated as a SEAR event,” Edwards says.

SIA has set three legislative objectives that methodically approach this issue in a reasonable and responsible manner and give legislators a clear path to authorizing C-UAS beyond what is currently approved, Edwards says.

SIA’s Working Group to Tackle Counter-Drone Regulation

Bill Edwards has a keen interest in protecting public spaces. As a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Army, a security consultant, and the president of federal and public safety at New York-based Building Intelligence, Edwards offers more than 35 years of experience and expertise in operational/technical security, counterterrorism, counterintelligence, surveillance and counter-surveillance. And he has a deep concern about public venues.

“Where I focus my efforts as a security consultant is on protecting our public venues, open-air stadiums, arenas with large viewing areas, concerts, parades — those types of events where the public gathers and it becomes a lucrative target for someone that would want to do something nefarious using a drone,” Edwards says.

His concern is that the technology of air-domain drones is moving at “monumental speed from a technology-development perspective and we are seriously behind on how to counter or legislate or regulate that technology.”

Last year, Edwards approached the Security Industry Association (SIA) about getting involved in the counter uncrewed aerial system space — the term “counter unmanned” has evolved to “counter uncrewed,” Edwards says — and as a result, SIA formed the Counter-UAS working group and asked Edwards to chair the group.

“There have been initiatives by the FAA, by the current administration, by the Chamber of Commerce, by some senators and congresspeople on this specific issue, but it’s really only centered around the federal government’s authorities and how the federal government delegates those authorities to specific events and circumstances. A speech might be something that’s approved. A Superbowl might be something that’s approved. It has to be something that’s around a designated SEAR event, which is a designation by the Department of Homeland Security,” Edwards says.

What this means is that while security integrators in the U.S. could sell a drone detection and monitoring system to a customer, it’s technically not a counter-drone or counter-UAS system, because integrators haven’t been granted the authority to deploy those counter-drone methods such as physically destroying the drone or jamming its signal.

“There are specific instances where the government has said, yes, we do have the capability to use these technologies but only in these circumstances and we’ve got to approve it. The federal government has the authority. A stadium that’s hosting 60,000 people at a football game right now does not have the authority to use a Counter-UAS technology unless that stadium has been designated by Department of Homeland Security as a SEAR event.

“This is where the problem lies because we have events happening all the time, really crowded events. Major League Baseball is in full swing right now and those are mostly open-air stadiums and large crowds are going to those. Large crowds are going to concerts, but there is really no protection mechanism other than detection and monitoring of that event. It doesn’t really give you an action capability,” Edwards explains.

The SIA Counter-UAS working group seeks to bring this issue to the attention of legislators so that they can think about what needs to be done from an authorities perspective, Edwards relates. The group includes about 20 subject-matter experts from the SIA community who are participating. They met at ISC West in March and formulated three objectives that will serve as the framework for creating the messages the group plans to bring to the attention of the legislators:

  1. The ability to designate select areas for testing, demonstration, and R&D of detection and mitigation equipment (approved ranges).
  2. Sanctioned and delegated authority to train and certify Counter-UAS operators (open to private-sector competition).
  3. Expansion/delegation of “authorities” for advanced detection and Counter-UAS capabilities for security and law enforcement professionals (to include private-sector businesses that host the public).

“The best outcome is awareness at the legislative level, at the level of decision-makers, for these people to understand how fast the technology is moving and how complex the issue really is when it comes to protecting public space because of the advent and evolution of the drone in the air domain,” Edwards says.

In part because of this regulatory backdrop, drone detection solutions often utilize limited mitigation tactics. Frigaard, for example, says, “The mitigation tactic that we help customers deploy is the ability to locate the drone operator who is illegally flying it, dispatch law enforcement to them, and then allow law enforcement to take care of that threat.” The solution from Convergint’s drone-detection partner uses RF sensors around a facility to trilateralize the location of the drone operator, he says.

In the realm of marketing these newer solutions, Convergint produces industry-specific webinars and helps clients identify funding sources, such as a port security grant from DHS because drone detection is part of the capabilities that are covered by those funds, he says. The company also has written and published a long-form e-book for the corrections industry on different aspects of drone detection, such as selecting and implementing a solution and which processes need to be adapted.

“We’re currently in the process of developing a paid pilot program for the humanoid robots and expanding on the paid pilot program for indoor drones in select end-user facilities across the country.”
— Jay Linton, ADT

Convergint is also exploring security solutions that are autonomous, including solutions that will allow remote guarding and patrol-and-response duties to be handled by drones and robots that can be managed by a centralized security operations center, Frigaard explains. “Ideally, solutions would not have an operator have to drive a drone or a robot. We want that to be completely automated whereby it automatically patrols, automatically responds.

“As robots and drones themselves become more autonomous, I think they will be much more attractive for human guard replacement, as well as just more effective solutions. If a customer has a very large perimeter, flying a drone may be a much more cost-effective solution than installing video surveillance along the perimeter and gives greater capabilities,” Frigaard says. “You can have color and thermal cameras within the drone payload. You can fly multiple drones, you can fly multiple altitudes, and then you can follow things. I think that as they become more autonomous, they will become more widely adopted.”

ADT Introduces EvoGuard Brand

At this year’s CES 2023 show, ADT Commercial, Boca Raton, Fla., unveiled its EvoGuard intelligent autonomous guarding solutions brand. The offering includes both independent humanoid robots and autonomous indoor drones. ADT says it is collaborating with its Norwegian innovation partner, 1X, on the humanoid robot and with Israel-based Indoor Robotics on the Tando autonomous indoor drone.

“But this definitely isn’t a singular endeavor for us,” says Paul Yezzi, director, business development for national accounts at ADT. “Beyond the EvoGuard suite of solutions, we are also in the process of evaluating additional solutions to address other areas of customer concern, and to expand our EvoGuard intelligent autonomous solutions portfolio into outdoor spaces.”

The company recently completed its first EvoGuard pilot sale, selling the Tando autonomous indoor drone to its existing pilot partner — the luxury Swiss watchmaker, Movado — to continue field-testing the solution in their distribution center.

Sunflower Beehive outdoor drone system
Deployed at Swiss Federal Railways, Sunflower Labs says that its Sunflower Beehive outdoor drone system can provide “dynamic on-demand observations, routine autonomous patrols, and people and vehicle detection across the site.” // IMAGE COURTESY OF SUNFLOWER LABS

“We’re currently in the process of developing a paid pilot program for the humanoid robots and expanding on the paid pilot program for indoor drones in select end-user facilities across the country,” says Jay Linton, ADT’s vice president, strategic alliances.

Based on conversations with current pilot partners and prospects, Yezzi says, ADT Commercial is finding that these types of solutions have the potential to be applied in any vertical or commercial facility where there is a need for a guard force — particularly if there are mundane, monotonous tasks involved.

“For example, in the case of Movado, they’ve been testing the indoor drones at their distribution center in New Jersey since June 2022. Their team has been actively field-testing the technology in collaboration with us and Indoor Robotics to serve as a supplemental physical security measure for overnight and weekend coverage,” Linton says. He adds that this customer anticipates the solution will help it “better utilize technology and streamline labor costs.”

Any commercial facilities that are currently staffing with traditional security guards is a possibility for these technologies — not as a means of replacing all guards, but to replace or supplement some guard services and add a new element of protection to corporate security programs, Yezzi believes.

“We’re also seeing increased interest for robots and indoor drones in market segments and facilities where there’s a need to minimize human interaction with certain areas or where traditional cameras can’t be used,” Linton describes. This could include facilities containing highly sensitive intellectual property or areas such as datacenters, where human error or unauthorized interaction could be dangerous or disruptive to operations, he says.

“Given that context, deploying robots and drones can be extremely appealing to these organizations. It’s putting technology first — over a human — to serve as a roving set of eyes to review a security incident and help to inform a response,” Linton says.

Tips From Vendors for Encouraging Sales

SDM asked subject matter experts from the vendor community to lend some advice to security integrators on how they can develop a market for surveillance drones, security robots and airspace security solutions. Here are their responses:

Alex Pachikov, co-founder and CEO, Sunflower Labs, San Francisco: “Anyone selling these solutions should have systems that they can demonstrate in real settings. Nothing is as good as a hands-on demonstration that shows a system in action to give customers a feeling of responsiveness, reliability and utility of this technology. Too much has been said about drones being the future, but showing that it is the reality today leaves everyone with a very different impression.

All of our sales have been a result of hands-on demonstrations where the customer got to really use the system and see its value.”

Dan Dunkel, managing director – channel sales, Dedrone, San Francisco: “Regarding airspace security, the first thing integrators should do is get educated on the threat that quadcopter drones present in low-altitude airspace. These devices have high-resolution cameras, listening devices, cyber tools to breach Wi-Fi networks and can be lethal when weaponized. The are used extensively for surveillance and espionage purposes as well as contraband delivery. The barrier of entry is low as these devices are readily available commercially.

Perhaps the most important consideration is that this threat flies over the line-of-sight of existing surveillance camera installations and the heads of security guards. This low-altitude airspace breach effectively nullifies existing physical security investments and must be addressed by the integrator community.”

Yaron Zussman, general manager, Magos Americas, Rehovot, Israel: “Drones are really smart sensors that fly, so the key is to understand the technology and recognize that the drone market is very different than traditional alarm, access and video. The intelligence of the drone is based on the software and the AI and machine-learning capabilities, so it takes different skills to sell and deploy them.

You really need to understand the technology and if possible, devote people within your organization to this particular discipline.”

Jack Wu, co-founder and CEO, Nightingale Security, Newark, Calif.: “Integrators can qualify customers with large facilities and in need of additional surveillance coverage but not wanting to trench for cameras due to cost.

Integrators should sell a complete ‘detect, respond and verify’ solution, so the security drone can be integrated with perimeter sensors to ensure the con-ops takes full advantage of the drone’s ability to respond faster than anything on the ground.

Integrators should work with the OEM to create technology packages that are ‘pre-packed’ for ease of budget estimates and provide the customer with needed information for budget approval.”

Now that ADT has entered the field-testing and piloting phase of its EvoGuard business, it is engaged in a multi-channel marketing, advertising and earned media strategy. This includes trade show exhibits and demos, a web presence and sales collateral, multimedia content, strategic media engagement, and advertisements. ADT also has created thought-leadership articles and white papers to educate early adopters on the trends in the use of robots and drones in the security space.

“We’re also investing in and building out our Innovation Lab in Dallas. This dedicated space will allow us to keep taking chances, testing out new technologies and features, but also offers us the opportunity to invite customers and prospects in to experience the solutions and see them in action,” Linton describes.

Smaller Integrators Testing the Waters

Advantech, a division of the Cook & Boardman Group, based in Dover, Del., and a Security-Net integrator, has spent the majority of its research and development in the drone detection space because it’s where it has clients with the most interest.

Knightscope Security robot
Security robots can provide continuous deterrence, monitoring and surveillance, threat detection, and rapid response to security incidents. Among other benefits, they also can assist in early detection of equipment failures, leaks and unauthorized access, enabling timely intervention. // IMAGE COURTESY OF KNIGHTSCOPE

“In reality though, beyond that we haven’t delivered any projects in that segment,” says Dave Sweeney, Advantech’s general manager. “We’ve delivered a few proposals, done quite a bit of education in the market in our geography, but haven’t delivered any business.”

Sweeney offers three theories for why Advantech has faced hurdles in selling drone detection systems to its customers:

  • The federal government’s inability or failure to provide enhanced regulation and/or direction on drone technologies.
  • In certain cases, the manufacturers have partnered directly with the end users to deliver the technology.
  • The price point is very expensive versus the perceived risk.

Sweeney believes that these factors, particularly regulations, are causing some people to wait in hope that there may be enhancements to the existing regulations in the future. “I think that the government’s inability to act or react to this threat or this risk is kind of impacting the end users’ ability to deploy technology,” Sweeney says.

Sweeney explains that there are few actions end users can take when they detect a drone in their airspace. In countries outside of the U.S., end users can take countermeasures such as deploying jammers, taking down the drone or confiscating it. They are able to react with a few more options than someone legally is able to use in the U.S., he says.

“In the drone detection world, all we’re offering for a relatively sizable investment is the ability to identify that there’s an unidentified drone in the airspace,” Sweeney describes. In the correctional market, for example, because the threat of a drone is to drop contraband over the fence, the primary “countermeasure” that can be taken is to close all the yards, wait for the drone to leave, then search the yards to find the contraband.

Although the technology exists to potentially identify the drone pilot’s location, attempting to catch the pilot before the pilot is gone is hard to do, Sweeney emphasizes. “Most drones have a battery life of 20 to 30 minutes, so that’s your reaction time if your goal is to capture the pilot who may be up to a mile away,” he says.

In Advantech’s case, their prospective clients did not purchase systems elsewhere. “The client chose not to invest in the technology at this time. I don’t consider that truly lost because the risk hasn’t gone away. At some point in time, the client is still going to have to evaluate that risk and potentially make an investment as the risk grows,” Sweeney says.

How Robots Enhance Security Outcomes

Security robots offer many advantages to end-user facilities, which in time will lead to greater acceptance and increased sales, describe their vendors.

Samuel F. Vinicur, CPP, director client development, Knightscope, Mountain View, Calif., says security robots offer capabilities that traditional security products, such as cameras or alarms, cannot provide on their own. “They can autonomously patrol and monitor areas, detect and respond to threats in real time, and provide a unique physical security presence,” a combination of mobility, sensing and remote monitoring that fills a gap in security solutions, Vinicur says.

By reducing the need for human security personnel or augmenting their capabilities, Vinicur says security robots can provide cost savings over time and optimized security operations. Robots provide continuous surveillance without requiring breaks, shifts or additional staffing.

“Continuous advancements in technologies that power security robots, such as artificial intelligence, computer vision and sensor capabilities, contribute to their effectiveness and value. As these technologies mature and become more affordable, security robots will become more sophisticated, reliable and capable — and will likely drive increased adoption and sales,” Vinicur believes.

Because security robots can provide continuous monitoring, record incidents, and improve response times, they can help organizations meet increasing regulations and comply with standards related to safety and security. “The need to adhere to regulations can be a significant factor in driving the sales of security robots,” Vinicur explains.

“Over time, as people become more familiar with security robots and their benefits, organizations will be more inclined to invest in these solutions to enhance their security posture. We are a ‘Star Wars’ society and exposed to robots in various forms, both fictional and real world. Adoption is inevitable,” Vinicur foresees.

Through the evolution and sophistication of AI technologies, devices such as security robots can offer significant advantages for security applications, says Steve Reinharz, CEO and founder of Robotic Assistance Devices and parent company AITX, Ferndale, Mich. “These technologies can analyze vast amounts of data in real time, identify threats and anomalies, and autonomously make decisions based on that information. AI-driven security devices and systems can automate many security tasks, reducing the need for human intervention and improving efficiency.”

Reinharz’s outlook for the future of these technologies is very positive. He believes that AI-driven security systems offer a range of benefits for end users that can improve security outcomes, reduce costs and enhance efficiency, making them a worthwhile investment for any organization looking to enhance their security posture. “As such,” he says, “they are set to become a major portion of a corporation or institution’s security spend in the very near future.”

Houston-based Preferred Technologies (Pref-Tech), which focuses solely on enterprise-level customers, has had a similar experience to Advantech. Its only sale thus far has been a surveillance drone the company purchased for a local law enforcement agency through its State of Texas DIR contract, a direct cooperative purchasing contract that allows Pref-Tech to sell certain products to government agencies with a pre-negotiated discount off MSRP, without having to go through a three-bid process.

One of the challenges is funding, notes Elliott Gabriel, sales and design professional at Pref-Tech. “It’s end users understanding the value and being able to sell that internally to either their leadership or their procurement group,” he says.

“Counter-UAS systems can be employed in the U.S., but only under specific circumstances that are approved by the government. A stadium that’s hosting 60,000 people at a football game right now does not have the authority to use a C-UAS technology unless that stadium has been designated by the Department of Homeland Security as a SEAR event.”
— Bill Edwards, Building Intelligence

Pref-Tech’s other challenges to sales are technology-related, Gabriel says. Integration with the user’s video management system is one potential challenge in making sure that both systems are compatible. “Bringing that video back live is a technological challenge, no different than body-worn cameras having that challenge of being able to live-stream back, if that is what’s needed,” Gabriel says.

In addition, he highlights FAA requirements of having a person licensed to physically crew or fly the drone. “Having the personnel on staff that is qualified and certified to use that is another potential barrier. If there’s no one currently on the staff, then the end-user customer must dedicate someone to get those licenses and certifications to do that,” he advises.

Just a Matter of Time

Despite the hurdles to sales and other challenges, these security integrators think security robots, surveillance drones, and drone detection will have a place in the security industry in the future.

Both aerial and terrestrial drones may prove useful in security, Gabriel remarks. “Imagine if there was a drone on land that could physically walk around the perimeter of a jail; that would alleviate the need to have one of their staff members walk around outside in the dark with that risk,” he suggests. He doesn’t ever see the human element being removed from security, but he also thinks the artificial intelligence (AI) side of security is very important because it “can navigate information much faster than the human can,” he says.

The viability of these technologies as a security offering also will hinge on connectivity, Gabriel believes. He says the widespread deployment of 5G will be the predecessor task required for certain technologies such as drones to be effective, both for transmission of the video as well as control of the device.

Sweeney sees that certain end users, such as airports, can quantify the investment in a technology such as drone detection based on their cost to shut down operations in the event of a drone in the air domain. For other end users, however, quantification of such an investment isn’t as easy at this time.

“So, I think that there will be an opportunity for someone. I don’t see drones becoming less prevalent and I don’t see drones becoming less capable — and I also don’t see the technology solutions for countermeasures and detection diminishing. I see them growing,” Sweeney says. “I see the companies growing, I see the offerings becoming more mature. It’s just a matter of time of finding kind of that sweet spot where the risk justifies the investment.”