Should you let a security robot patrol your home?

LG's new "augmented reality" vac pulls double duty as a robotic rent-a-cop. Are we ready for autonomous home security?
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer

The Roomba started all this.

iRobot's flagship vacuum kickstarted the whole consumer robotics movement and got people used to the idea of a motorized autonomous presence tooling around the house. (Your grandma's power scooter notwithstanding.)

It would be fitting, then, if the first robotic security guard you took home could trace its lineage to a vacuum cleaner.

That scenario just got a little more likely. On display at CES 2016 is a new robotic vacuum from LG. The HOM-BOT Turbo+ employs what LG is calling augmented reality technology. The robot interfaces with your smartphone in some unique ways. To issue instructions to the vacuum, you can designate areas that need cleaning via your phone's camera. Tap on any part of the room in the image and the HOM-BOT Turbo+ will go there and do its thing.

At some point in the development process LG's engineers must have realized that a vac that tools around your house, interfaces with your smart phone, and has motion sensors and onboard cameras could pull double duty as a remote security guard. I can envision that moment clearly: "Break out the trademark stamp, boys, I just thought of something!" (Except, you know, in Korean.)


Using the front-facing camera, the bot's "Home-View" feature transmits a real-time feed to smartphones, enabling users to remotely control their vacuum from anywhere in the world. The "Home-Guard" feature gives users extra security and peace of mind by sending photos to a paired smartphone when the HOM-BOT Turbo+ senses movement. Voila! Your own private security patrol.

It's not the first time we've seen security bots. A California company called Robotex makes a lineup of bots to thwart burglars, though these are primarily marketed as solutions for office buildings.


Robotex's Avatar III security bot

Robot kits like the Devastator, which can run a LINUX OS, offer DIY enthusiasts the perfect platform to build out a home patrol bot.

But LG's security-capable bot does feel like the first big release in the brand new roving home security category. It's certainly not going to be the last. Social robots like Jibo, Buddy, and Alpha 2 are due for release this year. Designed with third-party developers in mind, those sensor-rich companion bot platforms are likely to be put to use for home security.

Amazon's Echo can already integrate with your home alarm system and keep you up apprised of unexpected visitors when you're not home.

There are certain to be privacy concerns as these systems become more prevalent. Beaming photos from the inside of your home should not be done lightly, after all. And whatever comfort these bots bring, there will also likely be some bumps on the road with the new tech.

In fact, there have been a few already. In the early 1990s, a robotic security guard was brought in to patrol the LA County Museum of Art, but it was promptly decommissioned. The reason? It ran into a priceless work of art.

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