Unmanned ground vehicles promise to ease port security burdens, explains Alex Hughes
Automated unmanned ground vehicles (A-UGVs) present a critical and cost effective solution to ports looking to improve their overall security plan. Not only do A-UGVs allow ports to take the physical security presence off the quay and into a control room - providing ports and employees alike with better comfort and security for potentially less money - but they also serve as a tireless sentinel, always on duty, always ready to respond.
More and more companies seem to be recognising the value A-UGVs can add to a port’s overall security system. Among them is Sharp Robotics Business Division (SRBD), which has begun marketing the INTELLOS-UGV. National sales director Mike Kobelin argues it provides a cost effective component to augment and enhance traditional security solutions, although he adds that it should not be a port’s primary source of electronic surveillance.
Ports equipped with A-UGVs have options when security breaches occur. For example, a security operative could both zoom in with existing cameras and dispatch an A-UGV unit to the scene to take a closer look from ground level. This would also allow two-way communications to be opened with any person at the location, as well as permitting a response to be made without sending an operative into a potentially dangerous situation.
“The Sharp INTELLOS-UGV does much more than provide perimeter security,” says Mr Kobelin. “Once a traditional security system has been designed and is in place, it is very difficult and expensive to add new cameras, sensors, and intercom stations. Now, with this robotic solution becoming available, the end-user can effectively extend their perimeter security.”
Other areas, such as warehouses, can also benefit, suggests Scott Kwilinski, director of Professional Services at Sharp Robotics Business Division. Warehouses often contain items of value, so conventional security systems typically focus on their interiors.
“Security can be significantly enhanced by UGVs providing dynamic surveillance of the exterior entrances not just of warehouses but of other structures, too. For example, an A-UGV can observe vehicles in unusual, outdoor places and be directed to any activity for a closer look,” says Mr Kwilinski.
Ready to respond
Randy Parsons, director of Security at the Port of Long Beach believes that A-UGVs could potentially provide an added layer of security to the maritime environment.
In the US, the Coast Guard establishes mandatory minimum port security standards for many port and terminal operations, “however, ports and terminals always have the option to go above minimum mandated requirements”, says Mr Parsons.
With regards to the potential UGV applications, he says that each port has to determine its own security needs based on the level of risk that is present. Every port will already have a variety of layered security systems that could include fencing, sensors, access control, CCTV, radar, sonar, land and waterside patrols.
“UGVs may have more application for ports with a limited field patrol element or in owner-operated ports which can establish dedicated paths for their use without disrupting operations owned by other entities,” he says.
He points out that ports invariably have large warehouse storage facilities, too, as well as other storage facilities, including tanks for liquids and gases.
“A substantial portion of storage in container ports such as Long Beach, California, is open air and may be on privately leased property. In the case of multiple independently leased terminals, it may be up to each individual terminal operation to determine the usefulness of UGVs [in guarding these].”
He concedes that many duties in public safety prove repetitive for personnel. However, he stresses that security personnel and their superiors recognise the value of the training and experience that humans bring to an initial assessment and follow-on response to a situation.
A force multiplier
As to whether there’s a place for hi-tech security solutions, Mr Parsons is in no doubt that these already play a critical role in the maritime environment.
“The Port of Long Beach has invested millions on security measures to maintain situational awareness, emergency response and business resumption capabilities. Port environments, including our specific threat environments, are constantly changing.
“Technology is a force multiplier for traditional patrol units. Long Beach is addressing technology issues such as Unmanned Aerial Systems, fully automated container terminals capable of moving millions of containers per year, and the use of new and alternative energy sources in ports,” he says.
As for using A-UGVs in ports, he suggests such environments contain operations that could be very challenging.
“There is significant passenger vehicle movement throughout the day for both business and pleasure vehicles. On the individual operating terminals, there is constant human and heavy equipment traffic throughout the port,” he says. “UGVs may simply be too much technology for a specific port environment. As mentioned above, the size and complexity of a specific should drive an analysis of their value.”
Asked how an A-UGV would cope in a potentially dangerous port terminal environment, Mr Kobelin says: “A-UGVs will work within designated routes, being programmed to zoom in on areas of interest. Specific programmable missions, based on time of day and/or day of week will be designed and implemented; all of this will be performed in designated traffic lanes outside of the busy work flow of the port operation.”
He acknowledges that much outdoor security involves long periods when little happens. However, the A-UGV serves as a tireless sentinel, always on duty, always ready to respond.
“The data it collects can be used not just to react, but to be proactive to prevent occurrences,” he says. “The robot can do what it does best: undertaking constant, repetitive tours of the dull, dirty, and dangerous parts of the port.”
For example, in the case of an apparent chemical spill, the robot may be immediately dispatched to investigate without having to wait for human assets to put on hazmat suits and respond.
As for the harsh operating conditions to be found in ports, Mr Kwilinski explains that the Sharp solution is being built with many standard automotive components and is sufficiently rugged to operate under harsh environmental conditions. The outer body is a durable plastic shell that will not corrode.
“We expect the vehicle - and have tested it - to be all-weather. It works in rain, snow, fog … you name it. The path it travels needs to be groomed and it won’t climb a snowdrift, yet it can get around for outdoor patrol as the seasons and conditions change,” he says.
Added to which there is no obvious minimum or maximum size of port terminal that could benefit from an outdoor, robotic platform. In some cases, a A-UGV may be a touring resource, managed and monitored by officers from a security operations centre.
WEIGHING POTENTIAL AGAINST COSTS
While there is potential for A-UGVs to improve security at ports, automated on-dock solutions are not always readily accepted. Container-carrying automated guided vehicles have not seriously impacted container terminal operations globally, begging the question why will ports go for A-UGVs if AGVs aren’t yet the norm.
Sharp Robotics Business Division’s (SRBD) Scott Kwilinski points out the selling points of the Sharp UGV as a smaller unit with advanced safety systems.
“Given their smaller size, the security robot Sharp offers would in turn be less expensive, making the return on investment far more attractive than for their larger cousins. These two factors will make the acceptance of this technology far faster,” he says.
His colleague Mike Kobelin adds that an outdoor autonomous robot would only be one part of an organisation’s overall security plan. Given every site is unique and has different needs, he notes that Sharp has developed a cost analysis worksheet to guide potential clients through an extensive evaluation of infrastructure, technology and human costs required to fulfil the corporate security requirements.
“It is difficult to guarantee a clear ROI until a review has been made of the client’s security policies, their most recent gap analysis, and monthly operating costs.” he says.
In most cases, because of the steady increase in operating costs, the INTELLOS A-UGV will provide benefits of expanding and augmenting existing security while allowing human assets to be deployed to appropriate positions. At sites where the client is faced with high costs to add conduit, power and cable to distant parts of the site, deployment of an A-UGV may provide the needed security and safety sensing at a fraction of the traditional cost, he adds.
“You can also factor soft benefits into the ROI evaluation, including the deterrent factor as the robot performs,” he says.
Capital investments in technology, and return on those investments, are primary concerns for successful business operations, adds Port of Long Beach’s Randy Parsons.
“As a public agency, the Port of Long Beach works diligently to maximise the efficiency and effectiveness of its security systems. In the security field, it is important to balance fiscal responsibility with public safety and security needs. Security, though, is typically not a revenue generator,” he says.
Mr Parsons is under no illusion about security investment, pointing out that “it is a challenge to justify security expenditures without the concrete metrics often available in the business world”. Technology can be useful in generating metrics to help justify the use of security assets, he adds.
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