About Telebot

  FIU Discovery Lab receives gift and an idea

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 started.”

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 project.

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 explained.

“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 workforce.

“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.”