Meet Spot, the safe distancing robot on trial in Bishan-AMK Park

Curious park goers checking out Spot, a four-legged robot that started patrolling Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park yesterday to remind people of safe distancing measures. It is fitted with cameras, enabled by video analytics developed by GovTech, to help it es
Curious park goers checking out Spot, a four-legged robot that started patrolling Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park on May 8, 2020.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

A four-legged robot started patrolling Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park to remind people of safe distancing measures yesterday.

Called Spot, the robot will assist with safe distancing efforts in parks, gardens and nature reserves managed by the National Parks Board (NParks) and in parks managed by town councils.

The pilot trial is jointly conducted by NParks and the Smart Nation and Digital Government Group (SNDGG). The Spot robot will broadcast a recorded message reminding park visitors to observe safe distancing measures.

It is fitted with cameras, enabled by GovTech-developed video analytics, to help it estimate the number of visitors in the parks. The cameras, however, will not be able to track or recognise specific individuals, nor will it collect any personal data.

As part of the two-week trial, Spot will be deployed over a 3km stretch in the River Plains section of the park during off-peak hours, and it will be accompanied by at least one NParks officer.

If successful, NParks will consider deploying Spot for safe distancing efforts in Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park in the morning and evening peak hours.

NParks is also looking into deploying the robot in other parks such as Jurong Lake Gardens.

Originally developed by American company Boston Dynamics, the robot is able to navigate obstacles more effectively compared with wheeled robots, making it suitable for different terrain.

It is also fitted with safety sensors to detect objects and people within 1m to avoid collision.

GovTech has enhanced Spot with various functions such as remote control, 3D-mapping and semi-autonomous operations to facilitate the trial.

It is currently looking to develop analytics allowing Spot to check if park visitors are observing safe distancing measures.

As the robot is controlled remotely, less manpower is needed for park patrols, helping to minimise physical contact among staff, safe distancing ambassadors and park visitors. This helps to lower their risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

NParks is also deploying 30 drones to detect visitorship in selected parks and nature areas.

In addition, the Safe Distance At Parks portal lets people find parks near them, as well as check the crowd situation at the parks before making their way there.

 
 

The Spot robot is also on trial at the Changi Exhibition Centre community isolation facility, which houses patients with mild symptoms, to help deliver essential items such as medicine to patients.

The SNDGG will also be exploring the use of the robot in supporting other Covid-19-related operations across agencies.

Last month, an autonomous robot known as O-R3 was deployed in Bedok Reservoir Park by national water agency PUB as a kind of safe distancing ambassador.

The four-wheeled robot was originally used for surveillance, but it now broadcasts safe distancing messages at the park as it patrols the area in the mornings and the evenings when human traffic is at its highest.

Similar robots will be deployed at Pandan and MacRitchie reservoirs.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 09, 2020, with the headline 'Meet Spot, the safe distancing robot on trial in Bishan-AMK Park'. Print Edition | Subscribe