Spotlight on Japan—Social Systems Security, a Combination of People and Science Part II

The article is the continuation of Spotlight on Japan—Social Systems Security, a Combination of People and Science, Part I, featured in the January Community Policing Dispatch.

Beyond this, SECOM has had an autonomous ground patrol robot known as Robot X in service for about a decade now. Utilizing 360-degree vision, the vehicle assists uniformed security with patrol duties through coverage of pre-programmed routes both autonomously and through remote control. This allows for fewer personnel at security stations, thereby reducing costs, as the robot is cheaper than hiring a security guard. Upon encountering individuals during pre-set patrols in off-limits zones, Robot X will issue verbal warnings to the individual that they are in a secure area while alerting security personnel. If the unit itself comes under attack, as a defensive measure it can release a large blinding, vapor-like cloud that temporarily blocks vision and confuses the attacker. It also has built-in safety features such as the ability to autonomously and swiftly come to a hard brake during high-speed patrol should anyone accidently step in front of it. The robot features a battery life of several hours and returns to a docking station for recharging after each patrol.

SECOM will soon deploy autonomous security drones to watch over vacant lots and other areas to prevent loitering. When tripped sensors detect movement, a drone automatically wakes up and deploys from a container where it flies over the perimeter of a pre-set area in a full 360-degree arc, gathering images of individuals or vehicles in the area. If a vehicle is detected, the drone will focus on transmitting images of the license plates back to SECOM, who will in turn relay it to security officers and the National Japanese Police Agency. The drone will always stay within a set perimeter and should it find any individuals or vehicles attempting to leave, it will not give chase. It is designed to have enough power to maintain continuous flight while transmitting visuals until security personnel arrive within the company’s approximately 15-minute time frame.

This opens up the possibility of deployment alongside autonomous cameras that the company already utilizes. These “smart cameras” can track multiple individuals by continuously focusing on and tracking the closest target to a protected asset. The camera will switch focus between targets as often as needed if, for example, multiple individuals are present and take turns moving closer and farther from the protected asset itself. The company is also currently perfecting autonomous security blimps that allow a 360-degree view of the area around the vehicle through an Oculus Rift-like virtual interface and allow for communications with ground targets through built-in audio systems. This can help track suspicious persons at security sites and direct evacuations in disaster situations. The airship will link with surveillance cameras and drones on the ground, and there is talk of deploying this at the 2020 Olympics.

SECOM hosts some of the largest data centers in Japan with unique characteristics. Though I can’t go into detail, I can say that they have some very neat earthquake stabilization structures, some very Star Trek-like security systems (think Apple Store and then double it), and some very interesting green technology systems in place. This gives the company and its security operations a step up in harnessing big data and machine learning, two future trends to stay on top both for security purposes and just in general.

SECOM is also in the business of constructing apartment buildings (known as “mansions” in Japan). As you would expect, they are equipped with the company’s security systems and are quite fancy. One such gated community contained several seven-to-10-story apartment buildings and dozens of condo units, had a Starbucks-like private café for dining out or just lounging around with a coffee, a large (for a private complex) gym, a private movie theater, and separate vacant guest units for hosting visiting friends of the complex’s residents. The guest units rival extremely nice hotels, and the rate is approximately half of what you would expect to pay for an average hotel room. The company also runs security at shopping malls and equips elevators at those malls with systems to sense minuscule earthquake vibrations that are imperceptible to most people. This allows security staff to monitor potentially dangerous situations in an earthquake-prone country consistently and to respond immediately.

The company also cares for the elderly and runs both “day-care activity” centers and assisted living facilities. I visited a location in Kanagawa prefecture that conveniently has both types of facilities. The assisted living facility had private living units, exquisite public baths, a fancy restaurant, daily community activities (I observed vocal-cord training), community areas to play games, meeting rooms, and basic care facilities with medical staff. The day-care center down the road picks up residents living within a radius of a few kilometers from once to five times per week for activities. Volunteers come to the center on a regular basis to teach classes ranging from painting to origami to pottery and so on. The center is equipped with two beds for emergency use as well as two handicap toilets, one for left-handed people and one for right-handed people. Either participants are dropped off at home or their relatives pick them up around 7:00 p.m. each day. Note that this is just one of many such locations where SECOM has centers.

The company is also developing robotics to care for the elderly. One thing I noticed during my second week was devices that help feed individuals who have trouble using their limbs. SECOM also runs hospitals, both internationally and within Japan. Yotsuya Medical Cube is close to Sophia University (where I spent a semester during college). Just more than 200 individuals staff the hospital and its illness-type organized floors. The facility has the feeling of a fancy hotel with large rooms that are nicely carpeted and fashionably decorated. Special encasings cover wall panels to block out the feeling of being in a hospital. One interesting thing to note was the female-only section of the hospital, which specializes in female-related issues. The head of the hospital attended some of his studies in America and he and his staff spoke English almost fluently.

The company also sells different integrated security systems categorized by either private use or corporate protection. This expands still further into systems for large houses, smaller houses, or apartments or pure fire-protection systems. One such system includes (as just a single component of an integrated system) a hidden trap that will activate once a sensor is tripped in front of a priority safe zone (for safe zone think of a corporate vault or a private safe, for example), giving off high-powered noises and showering the individual within a thick vapor-like substance. The intent is to simultaneously startle, disorient, and scare an individual long enough to allow security to arrive while making them aware that they are being monitored. The second part may cause them to flee, which is all the better, as the company’s main mission is to safeguard and protect. Curious, I had this tested on myself, which is what happened to me at the beginning of Part I of this article. Effective, yes. Lethal, no. SECOM also equips some homes with high-tensile security glass, which is designed to hold out against blunt force for approximately 30 minutes; it is barely impacted by the swing of a bat (I gave it several swings). Another neat thing I noticed was that the company recently began deploying and offering fingerprint readers in place of keys to allow customers to enter their homes.

Some years ago, SECOM acquired PASCO, a creator of 3-D maps for potential use in disaster relief, crop mapping, building modeling, urban development, etc. One current system deployed by PASCO allows users to wander around fully 3-D holographic simulations of previously mapped cities. This is done by donning a headset and simply walking around. To make travel around the simulated cities quick, by default walking will cause you to move around the simulation at the height of a very low altitude airplane or blimp. Ducking down or squatting can actually get you fairly close to the ground to look at individual buildings and objects in detail. By crawling, you are actually able to get down to street-level for examining the tiniest details. The company achieves this through images taken from multiple altitudes utilizing cars, helicopters, blimps, planes, and satellites. Finally, the SECOM Future Center showcases the next decade of the future envisioned by the company to guests and customers who visit the headquarters building in Harajuku. This involves a guided tour, work desks with touch-screen interfaces, a video simulation of the future, vehicle demonstrations and capabilities, and a display of connected security devices.

Staff told me that the focus of the company is on the concept of happiness. Safety and security allows citizens to achieve happiness, which in turn is achieved through an intense collaboration of people and science. Who was that ancient Greek who once said, “Give me a firm spot on which to stand, and I shall move the Earth”?

Howard Stone
Staff Writer and Program Specialist
The COPS Office

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