The Singaporean authorities have taken a high-tech approach to ensure that citizens comply with social distancing rules, deploying a dog-like robot to patrol the busy Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park and remind people of the need to keep their distance.
Designed by Boston Dynamics, the remote-controlled robot – called SPOT – was originally developed in 2015 using funding from the US’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and was intended to be used to conduct search and rescue missions in dangerous situations, among other things. It was specifically designed to be extremely steady on its feet and can maintain its balance even when kicked or when walking on uneven or slippery terrain.
Singapore has, at the time of writing, recorded just over 23,800 coronavirus cases, and strict lockdown measures remain in place until June 1. Under these rules, people are only permitted to leave their homes for essential purposes such as grocery shopping, and while exercising in parks is permitted, this must be done alone. Those who fail to comply with these public health measures could face severe fines and even jail time.
As it patrols the park, SPOT politely reminds people to remain at least 1 meter (3.3 feet) apart at all times by playing a pre-recorded message from a loudspeaker. It also features cameras and sensors on its back, which it uses to monitor the number of people using the park, though it is not capable of tracking individuals or obtaining any personal data, Reuters reports.
After an initial trial period of two weeks, authorities will decide if SPOT has had enough of an impact to warrant its continued use in other green spaces, some of which are already being patrolled by robots. In a reservoir near to the park, for instance, a car-shaped bot has been deployed to broadcast recorded messages reminding people not to loiter or gather in groups.
Boston Dynamics has become famous for populating uncanny valley with a series of canine-like bots, beginning with the BigDog model in 2005. Since then, its team of dog-bots have become increasingly agile and stable without compromising on creepiness. And as the world faces new health threats, climate disasters, and humanitarian crises, contraptions like SPOT could well become a regular sight.