After six years of development and investment of $8m of capital, Denning Mobile Robotics Inc of Wilmington, Massachusetts still hasn’t sold one of its Sentry robotic security guards. And in that time the price of the Dalek-like robots has increased 340% to $110,000 for 280lbs of extra metal and electronics than was originally forecast; the […]
After six years of development and investment of $8m of capital, Denning Mobile Robotics Inc of Wilmington, Massachusetts still hasn’t sold one of its Sentry robotic security guards. And in that time the price of the Dalek-like robots has increased 340% to $110,000 for 280lbs of extra metal and electronics than was originally forecast; the Sentry now tips the scales at 480 lbs (CI No 101). Despite selling less advanced versions of the robot for research at colleges and netting various testing grounds Bayview Security in Boston has one and two have been placed with military police in Alabama – that elusive first order has yet to be won. The robot can see where it is going by producing a rough map of its surroundings using sonar range-finders similar to those found in Polaroid’s instant cameras. In this way it can detect walls and other objects in its path. Eventually the aim is to develop a robot that can move around without bumping into things, and with the ability to make its own way to a battery recharging station. Based around two Motorola 68000s, Sentry’s microwave radar and infra-red sensors have a range either side of 150 feet. Infrared beacons at hallway junctions also help it orient itself. Back in 1982 predictions on speed were optimistic and Denning was hoping for around five miles an hour. Now the first-stage product is out with speeds of only one mile an hour but as Hans Moravec – a robotics expert from the Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh – told the Wall Street Journal: It’s adequate. This was proved by Bayview Security which is using Sentry in the Bayside Exposition Center in Boston. When Sentry thought it had detected an intruder it set of an alarm to the human security guard at the front desk. He and a colleague then managed to scare two men away, marking the first time a security robot has helped prevent a break-in. Even with its chequered history Denning has been able to generate considerable interest. When it made its initial public offering in 1983 $2.4m was raised; and it then planned to have a finished robot guard in 16 months. Sinister note Some 18,000 small investors bought shares at the equivalent of $2.50 each with warrants to buy more at higher prices. President Warren George even talked a Massachusetts bakery into buying a 22% stake in the company for $1.9m. In fact getting something for nothing is something he has become adept at. Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co audit the books at bargain rates; Chubb Corp writes liability insurance on the robots and Raytheon Co of Lexington, Massachusetts is assembling Sentry under contract. In 1985 things took on a more sinister note. Three of the top men at Denning persuaded directors to demote George leaving the way clear for them to raise money through an Arab connection. After just a few months they had resigned without raising a cent for the company despite paying $10,000 to someone claiming to be a middleman. In 1986 the share price hit rock bottom and Denning arranged a 1-for-25 reverse split to reduce the number of shares and push the price over the $1 mark. Prices later peaked at $5.375 but have now dropped to around $2.375. Although no corporate orders have been forthcoming so far and things could be better, there still looks to be a future for Denning. Security firms say that with lease financing they could use the robots, working in conjunction with humans, for $7 to $8 an hour. That’s competitive with humans who can be considerably less reliable. As Patrick Fay, president of Bayview Security says: Guards have a reputation for falling asleep on weekends. The robot doesn’t take lunch breaks or vacations. Once you turn it on, it’s relentless.