Singapore deploys pandemic robot in parks to remind humans to follow social distancing

The Boston Dynamics robot known as Spot has been deployed to a park in Singapore to remind people they should follow social distancing guidelines during the pandemic, according to a new report from Singapore’s top government technology agency.

The new four-legged robot, which was set loose today in Bishan-Ang Mo Kio park, broadcasts a message reminding visitors they need to stay away from other humans, as covid-19 poses a very serious threat to our health. Spot was made available for purchase by businesses and governments last year and has specially designed cameras to make sure it doesn’t run into things.

“These cameras will not be able to track and/or recognise specific individuals, and no personal data will be collected,” according to a press release from Singapore’s GovTech agency.

The Spot model being trialed today has been outfitted with custom software developed by GovTech to estimate how many people are in the park at any given time. The trial of Spot will last through May 22 and an employee of Singapore’s National Parks Board (NParks) will keep a close eye on the robot during this test period.

Technically, Spot can climb stairs and has a payload capacity of 30 pounds, but it doesn’t look like the little robot has to do any heavy lifting at the park. At least until someone decides Spot should start enforcing social distancing rather than just reminding people that it’s a good idea.

Spot, which has a maximum battery life of roughly 90 minutes, has already been outfitted with special arms in the U.S. so that it can open doors for police, something that the ACLU isn’t too happy about, to say the least. Police around the world seem pretty excited about the possibilities of Spot though, as this new trial in Singapore makes clear.

The park in Singapore is also posting signs about the new trial, encouraging people not to “disrupt” the robot, though it’s not clear what you could do to really disrupt the little thing. Maybe try to ride it? Spot has been known to pull a large truck in the past.

Singapore was widely lauded for its ability to control the spread of covid-19 in the early days of the pandemic. But that’s changed dramatically over the past few weeks. Cases are surging in Singapore, with an estimated 90 per cent of new coronavirus infections occurring in cramped housing for foreign workers.

Singapore currently has identified 21,707 cases and 20 deaths from covid-19, based on the latest figures from the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracker.