Coronavirus pandemic

Coronavirus: Robots ensure safe distancing in parks

As the Covid-19 outbreak continues to cause disruptions, organisations here have had to adapt to 'business as usual' in a pandemic world. From robot cleaners to remote physiotherapy sessions to digital management platforms, Timothy Goh looks at five different types of technology that have been adopted here in the fight against Covid-19, and what the future might look like.

Spot the robot patrolled Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park for two weeks last month.
Spot the robot patrolled Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park for two weeks last month.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

Embracing tech in Covid-19 fight

The recent circuit breaker measures saw many new visitors flocking to parks around the island - including two mechanical ones.

O-R3 and Spot the robots were deployed by the National Parks Board (NParks) and national water agency PUB to help with safe distancing efforts.

Two O-R3 mini cars made their rounds at Bedok and Pandan Reservoirs, broadcasting reminders to the public to refrain from gathering and loitering. Equipped with a 360-degree camera and sensors, O-R3 is a robotic security car that can record video footage and broadcast messages.

The autonomous four-wheeler had previously been deployed at Bedok Reservoir in May last year as part of a trial to support the PUB's surveillance operations at its plants and reservoirs.

Encouraged by the trial, PUB decided to use it as a safe distancing ambassador during the circuit breaker period. PUB said these robots were not used for enforcement or surveillance purposes.

They will continue their broadcast duties at least throughout this month, and PUB will assess how such autonomous robots can be put to use in the future.

Unlike its wheeled counterpart, Spot moves around on four legs. This allows it to navigate obstacles effectively, making it ideal for operation in public parks and gardens, said NParks. The remote-controlled dog patrolled Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park for two weeks last month. Aside from broadcasting safe distancing reminders, its cameras and GovTech-developed video analytics allowed it to also estimate the number of visitors in the park.

Spot helped reduce the manpower required for park patrols, and minimise physical contact among staff, volunteer safe distancing ambassadors and park visitors.

"This lowers the risk of exposure to the virus," NParks said.

Together with GovTech, it is assessing possible future applications for Spot.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2020, with the headline 'Robots ensure safe distancing in parks'. Subscribe