Robots

Visitors to parks, gardens, and nature reserves can now run into a four-legged robot charged with transmitting reminders of the need to maintain safe distances.

Visitors to Singapore’s parks, gardens and nature reserves that now meet a four-legged robot deployed to alert them of the need to maintain safe distances in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dubbed SPOT, these droids are often fitted with cameras to monitor the number of visitors to parks.

As part of a project initiated by the Singapore National Parks Board (NParks) and the Digital Government Group, which includes the Smart Nation and the Digital Government Office and the Government Technology Agency (GovTech), robots aim to help ensure safe distance steps are taken and to minimize the manpower required for park patrols. Remotely monitored, they also reduce physical interaction between workers, healthy distancing officers, and park visitors — thus lowering the risk of coronavirus exposure.

The robots have been deployed, for a fortnight during off-peak hours, over an area spanning 3 km in the Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park River Plains, the government agencies said in a joint statement on Friday. A recorded message will be transmitted from SPOT robots, informing tourists of the need to practice safe distances.

Cameras installed on droids will not track or identify particular people, the Singapore government agencies said, adding that no personal data will be collected. Instead, visual aids are driven by video analytics, produced by GovTech, to help estimate the number of visitors to the parks.

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Because the robots are not wheeled, the SPOT droids can travel well across different terrains and overcome obstacles. Equipped with safety sensors to detect humans and items in its route, the robot’s algorithm allows objects to be identified within 1 meter of its proximity. This will also be assisted by at least one NParks officer during the trial.

If the trial is successful, the deployment of SPOT will be extended to include morning and evening peak hours and other parks operated by NParks, such as Jurong Lake Gardens. The Government Agency maintains more than 350 parks, 3,347 hectares of nature reserves, Singapore Botanical Gardens, Jurong Lake Gardens, Pulau Ubin and Sisters’ Islands Marine Park. It also operates the Singapore Park Connector Network, which includes more than 300 km of major parks, nature areas and residential estates across the island.

SPOT is also currently being piloted at the Changi Exhibition Centre, which has been transformed into a group isolation centre for COVID-19 patients, to provide essential items such as medicines.

NParks has been using technology to promote its efforts to ensure that safe distance policies are pursued. About 30 drones, for example, have been deployed in selected parks to provide their officers with a high vantage point and to assist in visitor updates. According to the Agency, drones provided a better indicator of the visitor intensity in a specific area.

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Over the past month, Singapore has implemented tougher steps that have forced non-essential companies to close or have all their employees work from home and food and beverage operators to provide only take-away or delivery choices. Additionally, stores that remain open, including supermarkets and pharmacies, are required to implement safe distance policies, such as ensuring that customers stay 1 meter apart while in line to make payments.

In order to stay in effect during the ‘circuit breaker’ time, these steps were initially scheduled to end on 4 May, but later extended to 1 June.