Robots being tested for use for public transport security

SINGAPORE - The Land Transport Authority (LTA) could soon be adding autonomous robots to its arsenal of security measures at transport nodes here.

One such robot was deployed at the Hougang MRT station on Wednesday (Dec 5) during an emergency preparedness exercise to test its navigational and surveillance capabilities.

"The use of unmanned robots could potentially complement the deployment of security officers in the future," said the LTA.

Developed by ST Engineering, the 1.6m-tall robot is equipped with seven cameras to allow it a 360-degree view of its surroundings.

An in-built global positioning system (GPS) as well as sensors such as lidar, which bounces lasers off objects, allow it to patrol designated areas.

The LTA also noted the autonomous robot could in the future be equipped with video and audio analytics technology for "enhanced surveillance purposes".

"Through today's exercise, we will assess its potential to complement on-site surveillance needed for public transport incident management," said the LTA's public transport security deputy director Joseph Goh.

A similar robot was also deployed by the Singapore Police Force to patrol the Suntec Singapore International Convention and Exhibition Centre during the 33rd Asean Summit last month.

The control console for the LTA's robot was located within a nearby incident response vehicle, which is aimed at enhancing the authority's surveillance capabilities during major incidents and events.

The vehicle is equipped with telecommunications equipment and a camera system that can transmit live footage to the LTA's Land Transport Operations Centre at its headquarters in Hampshire Road.

Robots are increasingly being used for security purposes.

Last month, an artificial-intelligence equipped robot was tested for five days at the Seibu-Shinjuku train station in Tokyo, sending alerts to the smartphones of station staff if suspicious objects or people were detected.

Wednesday's exercise, dubbed Exercise Station Guard - which also saw commuters required to go through a walk-through metal detector and pass their belongings through X-ray scanners - was the third such operation by the LTA this year.

Earlier exercises were conducted at the Newton station in February, and the Holland Village station in July.

This is separate from a six-month trial of increased checks at selected MRT stations, which began last month and also employs X-ray scanners and metal detectors as part of efforts to enhance security on public transport.

Transport nodes remain "attractive" targets to terrorists, said Dr Rohan Gunaratna, who heads the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

He noted that in 2010, a marked map of Singapore's MRT network was found in the home of a terror suspect killed in Indonesia, with the Orchard station circled.

"What is essential is not only to train security personnel but non-security staff serving MRT stations to detect suspicious activity. Working with commuters to raise public awareness is paramount," he said.