Jeremy Robins wants to use robots to bring disabled law enforcement officers back to
the force, and he’s given researchers at Florida International University’s Discovery Lab
$20,000 to bring his idea to life.
Robins, a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserves, describes himself as
someone from a service-oriented family who is “always looking for new challenges.”
While serving in Afghanistan, Robins had an idea on how to help disabled police and
military veterans reconnect with the work force while simultaneously combating our
nations rising crime. His idea is to use telerobotics, the combination of telepresence and
robots, to allow vets to serve as patrol officer’s.
According to the VA there are more than 181,000 Afghanistan and Iraq War veterans
collecting disability benefits today. Many of these veterans are unemployed. In addition
to our military vets, thousands of police are forced to retire every year because of
disability. Telerobot’s could change all that.
“We want to use telebots to give disabled military and police veterans an opportunity to
serve in law enforcement,” explained Robins. “With telebots, a disabled police officer
will be capable of performing many, if not most, of the functions of a normal patrol
office – interacting with the community, patrolling, responding to 911 calls, issuing
citations. Telerobotics has already begun to make its way into the worlds of medicine,
business and private security. Extending it into law enforcement is simply the natural
progression of things.”
After doing some initial research, Robins, who has a degree in law but no background in
engineering, put his idea in writing in an email to Professor Jong-Hoon Kim, director of
the Discovery Lab at FIU’s School of Computing & Information Sciences. The Discovery
Lab was created last Spring and is aimed at developing products for the marketplace.
Kim admits he was surprised to receive Robins’ email. It’s not everyday someone with
no prior affiliation with the university offers to make a gift and presents you with a great
idea of what to do with the money.
“So we met face to face and we realized he’s a good guy with a good heart, and it gave
us a good feeling about this project,” Kim said. “So, we got interested and wanted to get
Kim immediately shared the email with the school’s director, Professor S. Sitharama
Iyengar, and Professor Nagarajan Prabakar. This, they all agreed, is just the sort of
project the lab was interested in developing.
“Jeremy is the principal person, the idea came from him,” Iyengar said. “Hats off to
him. He is a great citizen. Somebody giving $20,000 and saying let’s do it, that’s really
something. The next step is how do we build it? Whatever amount of resources it takes,
we’ll take care of it.”
College of Engineering and Computing Dean Amir Mirmiran said the story about how
this particular project came about is a testament to the impact of the lab in such a short
period of time.
“FIU’s Discovery Lab is truly an innovation sandbox, where our most creative faculty and
students are applying their out-of-the-box thinking to tackle real problems with smart
solutions at affordable costs,” Mirmiran said.
Robins is now working with faculty and students in the Discovery Lab to develop an
initial prototype. Preliminary sketches have been drawn up, and discussions are ongoing
with other universities and private companies regarding possible collaboration on the
They’re looking at telebots offering community policing in high density, public spaces in
addition toperforming surveillance activities in sensitive areas such as ports and nuclear
facilities. The prototype will incorporate video, audio and sensory capabilities, Prabakar
“We want to look at something that’s affordable and can also be deployed so that
people can use it,” Prabakar said. “That’s a very important part of this. We want to
make sure that the cost is affordable for police departments and others.“
The revolutionary thing about this project, Robins say’s, is that instead of using robots to
take a human out of the workforce, they’re using robots to allow a person back into the
“We'll be using a technology to allow a person to perform a job they would otherwise
be unable to perform or not permitted to perform,” he said. “These men and women
joined the police and armed forces in order to serve their country, but now because
of injury that ability has been diminished. I don’t know how to fix a severed spine, but
restoring that ability to serve, and specifically the ability to serve in law enforcement—
that I think we can fix.”