You Can Now Monitor Your Home With Drone Security Guards

You can now monitor your home with a small robot army

Photo Illustration: Diana Quach
Aug 24, 2016 at 1:35 PM ET

You ignore the sign—”Trespassers Beware Of Drone”—and climb over the fence of the Pacific Heights mansion. You crouch and scurry across the yard, hidden by manicured shrubs. But before you even come close to sneaking into the tech billionaire’s home, you hear the whirring of the octocopter approach. You look over your shoulder as it blasts you with light, capturing your mug with its high-definition night-vision camera, shouting at you that the police are on their way.

“The drone we’re using has large frame with loud speakers, lights, and cameras. You can’t miss it. It has a very imposing presence that really goes beyond what a security camera is capable of doing.” Aptonomy cofounder Mihail Pivtoraiko told Vocativ. “This basically allows you confront an intruder actively and humanely by sounding loud speakers and shining bright lights.” 

Aptonomy has developed a system that turns drones into flying security guards. The company modifies DJI Spreading Wings S1000+ drones, adding cameras and computers that fly the craft around a property, avoiding obstacles, and searching for things that don’t belong. With a three-and-a-half-foot wingspan, the drone can be intimidating, but it’s the flashing alarms and spotlight that make it look like a blood-hungry flying saucer.

The drone charges for 15 to 20 minutes on a dock placed on a roof, away from view and vandalism, then it takes off and monitors the area. Pivtoraiko compared that schedule to a human guard who does a patrol every hour, but he recommended getting three drones so one is ready to go at any time. These drones can be programmed to investigate whenever sensors around the property are triggered. And while motion sensors might set off a lot of false alarms, Pivtoraiko claims that, over time, the system’s artificial intelligence will learn how to distinguish true anomalies from branches swaying in the wind. Think of it as a hovering Roomba that gets to know your property better the more it surveys the area. The drones can work with whatever security network someone has in place, be it a company that monitors footage or a program that sends alerts and streams videos to a smartphone app.

Pivtoraiko and fellow cofounder Siddharth Sanan both earned their doctorate in robotics at The Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University and have done research and development for Army Research Labs, DARPA, and NASA Jet Propulsion Lab. For their first private venture, the inventors decided to focus their robotic skills on physical security because they believe it is a field that will benefit from full autonomy. In other channels that use drones — like mapping, inspections, and cinematography — users simply use the craft to collect data. But in order to assist or replace security guards, drones need to function independently.

The company has already caught the attention of the commercial alarm industry, oil refineries, and warehouse owners, according to Pivtoraiko, who said he has made agreements or is in discussion with companies in each of those fields. He’s also talked to some wealthy property owners interested in protecting their homes with small robot patrols There is already at least one Aptonomy system being used by a construction company.

Security drones could be especially beneficial to remote places that are difficult to monitor, but Pivtoraiko said their system could easily be used indoors, at public places like shopping centers. Soon, security companies could employ Aptonomy drones to patrol malls. Like robotic mall cops, except more fun to watch.