Reassess deployment of robots at MRT stations

It is laudable that the Land Transport Authority (LTA) has deployed a 1.6m-tall autonomous robot at the Hougang MRT station to assess its potential in public transport incident management (Robots could be rolled out for security patrols at MRT stations; Dec 6).

However, it is not entirely clear how it can enhance the safety and security outcomes at MRT stations.

Today, our MRT stations are equipped with video surveillance systems, alarm systems, access control systems, and fire alert systems. A video surveillance system consists of a network of video cameras installed at strategic locations. They capture real-time images of commuters and their surroundings. These images are then analysed in the back-end using sophisticated software to detect suspicious activities, including objects left unattended. Relevant personnel at the MRT station centre are then alerted to investigate.

More recently, armed guards have been seen patrolling the stations. Because they are armed, they serve as a visible deterrent as well as have the ability to handle situations where armed intervention is necessary.

It is not entirely clear how an unarmed autonomous security robot can perform any better to justify its use in the context of MRT stations. This is especially so when the control console for the LTA's robot is located within a nearby incident response vehicle and not linked to the MRT station control room.

Such robots are more suited to patrol large secured areas to detect intruders. When used outdoors, they are able to withstand Singapore's high heat and humidity levels for very long periods of time without getting tired and losing the ability to concentrate.

State-of-the-art technology deployed must have the ability to enhance safety and security requirements. Otherwise, the investment is better spent working on commuters to raise public awareness of detecting suspicious activities.

Liu Fook Thim

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 17, 2018, with the headline 'Reassess deployment of robots at MRT stations'. Print Edition | Subscribe