Security Drones May Be Coming To A Mall Near You

What could possibly go wrong?

Key Takeaways

  • Israeli company XTEND plans to offer drones as mall security guards.
  • The drones would use telepresence and include a video of the operator’s face.
  • The XTEND drone joins a growing number of uses for unmanned aerial vehicles ranging from defense to agriculture.
A flying drone.
Yagi Studio / Getty Images 

An Israeli company is proposing to use flying drones as virtual security guards inside US malls and other public spaces. 

The XTEND drone design, which is expected to launch next year,  would join a growing number of unmanned flying vehicles on the market with uses ranging from agriculture to defense. The XTEND drone would be remotely operated using a video link system called telepresence.

"The vision of telepresence is to save peoples' lives," XTEND CEO Aviv Shapira, said in a video interview. "Why risk yourself as a soldier, fireman, or as a police officer by going physically deeply into danger when you can send a remote machine."

Drones could be useful as security devices, experts say. "The FAA does not regulate the use of aircraft flown indoors so the focus shifts to public safety leadership, their insurers, and the community to determine what can and should be done inside a mall or large business," Anthony Pucciarella, president of MissionGO, said in an email interview. "There is a viable use case for systems patrolling an empty mall after hours to allow fewer security officers to monitor a large indoor area more effectively."

Rules Get in the Way

For outdoor use, many public safety organizations operate under FAA rules which have strict limits on overflying people, Pucciarella said. "These limits protect people on the ground but can also make it difficult for law enforcement to deploy UAS for mall security in outdoor situations while the mall is open for business," he added. "After business hours, unmanned systems are a great tool for patrolling large outdoor areas, entrances, and parking lots." 

A drone flying over Hong Kong.
 Colin Anderson Productions pty ltd / Getty Images

XTEND’s drones won’t look like your average quadcopter drone although the design is still being finalized, Shapira said. His company is trying to put a literal human face on the drones by including a video screen that shows the face of the person operating it. "They're going to have a face so when you walk next to them they're going to be able to hear you and talk to you," he added. "We want to make them as humanized as possible because there's a human inside right there on the other end of the controls."

Go See Alligators, Safely

Shapira sees a wide variety of uses for his company’s drones ranging from virtual tourism to remote inspection. He gave the example of how one of his company’s drones was recently used to get tourists in Israel up close and personal with nature. "There is a very unique place where there are alligators," he said. "It’s very dangerous to be there close to these alligators so we had a tour where you flew the drone next to the alligators and you can actually feel like you're there."

Drones are a growing presence around the world. According to one report, the global drone market will grow from $22.5 billion in 2020 to over $42.8 billion in 2025. The energy sector is expected to continue to be the largest industry on the drone market, but transportation and warehousing are growing the fastest and will be the second-largest market by 2025, the report states. 

"Why risk yourself as a soldier, fireman, or as a police officer by going physically deeply into danger when you can send a remote machine."

The XTEND drone will use augmented reality (AR) to help security guards patrol malls or firefighters battle blazes, Shapira said. In one possible scenario, a firefighter could send a drone up a staircase to the next floor. "Using AR it will switch between his own reality into the drone’s reality," he added. 

XTEND is developing an AR system that allows users to monitor multiple drones at the same time. "So if you deploy one drone and you see something on the first floor then you can deploy another drone on the second floor and you can jump between them," he said. 

Are you ready for vaguely humanoid drones monitoring your movements at the mall? The future is stranger and closer than you might think.