The Singapore government is using a robotic dog called Spot to ensure thatwalkers, runners, and other park visitors stay at least six feet away from oneanother. The initiative is part of an ongoing effort to help minimize thespread of COVID-19 by promoting social distancing in public places. Part of apilot program launched earlier this month, the robo-dog has already beenspotted barking orders in Singapore parks.
Developed by Boston Dynamics, a Massachusetts-based engineering and roboticscompany, Spot is one of the latest—and most creative—tactics being deployed bygovernments around the world as they begin to ease stay-at-home orders duringthe global pandemic.
Since May 8, the automated surveillance robot has been patrolling a two-milestretch of pathway at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, an urban respite located in theheart of Bishan, a highly populated area of the country, as James Vincentreports for the Verge. Using remote navigation, the four-legged, 60-poundrobot is equipped with a camera and pre-recorded message that “barks” awarning whenever it comes across someone who isn’t practicing safe distancing.
“Spot will be controlled remotely, reducing the manpower required for parkpatrols and minimizing physical contact among staff, volunteer safe distancingambassadors and park visitors. This lowers the risk of exposure to the virus,”according to a press release from the Singapore government. “Spot is fittedwith safety sensors to detect objects and people in its path. It has [built-in] algorithms to detect an object or person within one meter of its proximityto avoid collision.”
Throughout the program’s two-week trial period, at least one national parksboard officer will accompany the robot. In addition to Spot, the localgovernment is using a fleet of 30 drones to help monitor some of the country’smost popular parks and natural areas, which measure in real time how manyvisitors are at each destination. This data is then aggregated to a websitethat locals can use to determine which parks have the lowest amount ofvisitors at any given time.
The pilot program comes in response to an attack that occurred on May 4 at adifferent park in Singapore where a man allegedly stabbed a national parksboard officer with a knife while he was enforcing safe distancing measures, asper an article published by the Singapore-based newspaper The Straits Times.
Spot isn’t the first robo-dog to grab headlines (and YouTube clicks) duringthe pandemic. Last month, the Boston Globe reported that Brigham and Women’sHospital at Harvard Medical School in Boston employed the robotic canine toconduct remote triage among patients suspected to have COVID-19.
Boston Dynamics originally developed Spot as a resource that could be used inunstructured environments that were inaccessible to traditional robots, suchas construction sites and other places where the terrain can be limiting.However, in recent months, various organizations have been finding new ways toput the cutting-edge technology to good use, including its current gig as asocial distancing officer.
“A few months ago, I don’t think anybody was thinking about socialdistancing,” says Michael Perry, vice president of business development atBoston Dynamics. “The fundamental value of [Spot] is that you’re takingsomebody out of a hazardous environment where they’re being asked to dosomething very simple and you’re putting a robot there instead.”
By Jennifer Nalewicki
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