At the SAMMinistries shelter, a San Antonio security company tests Singaporean surveillance robots.

Next Monday, two Singaporean robots will start guarding the exterior of SAMMinistries’ downtown shelter.

The group, which provides accommodation and services to homeless individuals, has a contract with Texas Veteran Security to guard the location since it established the shelter in a downtown San Antonio Holiday Inn in December 2023.

The perimeter of the former hotel, located at 318 W. Cesár E. Chávez Blvd. on the west side of downtown, is always under observation by 27 guards working in three shifts. They accomplish this by foot and by car.

SAMMinistries’ ability to house the homeless has increased, necessitating the need for additional security personnel. “Our facility grew from 52 rooms to 200 rooms. Security expenses should be multiplied by four, according to Rex Brien, vice president of SAMMinistries’ Emergency Services division.

However, shelter and security officials claim that by continuously monitoring the outdoor boundary, the two new security robots will “save costs.” Texas Veteran Security CEO Gerard Morales stated that no guards are being let go and that 70% of the staff are veterans. Rather than adding additional employees, he claimed, the robots will improve staff capacities.

We want these robots to be deterrent, he stated.

The shelter requires the robots, according to SAMMinistries, because to its placement in a busy foot traffic region. Furthermore, the organization claims that security is required to patrol the perimeter in order to prevent strangers from entering, as some approvals are postponing the installation of the external fence.

The autonomous “O-R3” outdoor surveillance robots from Singaporean robotics manufacturer OTSAW remember their route and don’t require remote direction.

With the help of their sensors, they can detect impediments and patrol open areas. When their battery runs out, they can return to their bases.

The robots patrol the outside border while taking 360-degree photos and videos. Instead of having to keep an eye on the cameras, officers are notified when something goes wrong, when someone is recognized, or when someone requests assistance. The robots are able to navigate around obstacles and halt to allow pedestrians or cars to pass.

“We’re searching for ways to cut expenses without sacrificing safety.” We don’t want to jeopardize the security of our employees or residents,” Brien stated.

A test run

A week before the robots’ debut at a press event on Thursday, Texas Veteran Security and SAMMinistries teamed up to brief shelter residents on the new technology they’ll see in the coming days, Brien said, to ensure they aren’t startled by the cameras, lights or sirens.

Residents sat in a benched area during the presentation, seemingly unbothered by the new security robots. Others walked up curiously to check them out up close.

Texas Veteran Security ordered the robots six months ago, before receiving them three weeks ago. Behind Morales, OTSAW engineers on site configured the perimeter of the shelter so the robot would memorize its path. Renz Adante, an engineer from Singapore, tested the robots for the first time at the shelter.

The robots run on Wi-Fi and cellular service. At the shelter, they’ll operate on Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite service, Morales said. They can operate for eight hours, then require a two-hour charge. While one guards the property, the other robot will charge, and they’ll switch when needed.

The robots can also be programmed for facial recognition to identify a specific person. They allow for two-way communication from guards inside and the person encountering the robot to help people in the parking lot, and the robots can keep video recordings of their surveillance.

The siren can broadcast messages like, “Please come to the front of the location,” for example. It can go over speed bumps and terrain, but isn’t able to withstand heavy storms.

Brien said the robots will start a trial run next week for 30 days.

“We’ll see if this works for us [and] if it meets the need we have for security, and if it is an effective use of our costs.” Brien said, “It’s not a ‘Hey, this is what we’re doing.’”

Implementing the robots will help save one-third of the costs of a guard, Morales said. His security company will start offering the robot service to clients who are a fit for continuous outdoor security.

Commercial Director for OTSAW Duane Rumski said the SAMMinistries robots are the first of their kind in Texas. There are already some OTSAW robots in New York, New Mexico and in Washington, Rumski said. There are already 1,000 robots in Europe and Germany.

The San Antonio International Airport recently made headlines for adding a robot that drew criticism in other cities made by California-based Knightscope Inc. to respond to security alarms.

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