Telepresence robots are already making their way into space and operating rooms and onto the battlefield, but Jeremy Robbins, a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy Reserves, wants to get telepresence robots (or telebots) on the mean streets to combat crime. He’s enlisted the help of researchers at Florida International University (FIU) to develop telerobotics systems that would let disabled law enforcement officers get back onto the beat using robots originally conceived for military applications.

Robins hit upon the idea of using telerobotics as a way to keep the thousands of police officers who are forced into retirement each year due to disability while serving in Afghanistan. To further his goal he has given US$20,000 of his own money to researchers at FIU’s Discovery Lab and secured the loan of two custom-built robots valued at nearly $50,000 from the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC).

“We want to use telebots to give disabled military and police veterans an opportunity to serve in law enforcement,” explained Robins “With telebots, a disabled police officer will be capable of performing many, if not most, of the functions of a normal patrol officer – interacting with the community, patrolling, responding to 911 calls, issuing citations. Telerobotics has already begun to make its way into the worlds of medicine, business and the military. Extending it into law enforcement is simply the natural progression of things.”

The two robots on loan from IHMC were originally built for a $2 million DARPA initiative known as the Urban Warrior Robot (UWP) program. UWR project leader Jerry Pratt and the IHMC team are now working with FIU’s Discovery Lab to repurpose the two military-grade robots for crime-fighting duties.

Preliminary sketches of an initial prototype “PatrolBot” have been drawn up and the FIU students have split into teams to address the various challenges faced in adapting the robots to law enforcement applications, such as mobility, communications, video and interface capabilities. The goal is to develop telebots capable of patrolling in high-density public spaces and performing surveillance in sensitive areas such as ports and nuclear facilities. The prototype will incorporate video, audio and sensory capabilities.

“We want to look at something that’s affordable and can also be deployed so that people can use it,” said Professor Nagarajan Prabakar. “That’s a very important part of this. We want to make sure that the cost is affordable for police departments and others.“

Robins says the revolutionary thing about the project is that it is using robots to bring a person back into the workforce, rather than taking a human out of it.

“We’ll be using a technology to allow a person to perform a job they would otherwise be unable to perform or not permitted to perform,” he said. “These men and women joined the police and armed forces in order to serve their country, but now because of injury that ability has been diminished. I don’t know how to fix a severed spine, but restoring that ability to serve, and specifically the ability to serve in law enforcement – that I think we can fix.”

Source: FIU, IHMC