Four-legged robot can help SCDF respond to hazardous material incidents, assist police with patrols

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Robotic dog, Rover-X, started out as a robotic dog for search and rescue operations, but could be deployed as first responders to strengthen disaster rescue work and protect lives.

SINGAPORE - Alerted to a gas leak, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) dispatches a “four-legged employee” to the danger zone, instead of deploying human officers who don hazmat suits. 

Called Rover-X, it is packed with sensors and cameras and can move autonomously, even tackling stairs, kerbs and other terrain that stop the progress of traditional robots on tracks or wheels.

A media preview of what Rover-X, which began as a robotic dog for search and rescue missions, can further do was held on Thursday (Jan 20) by the Home Team Science and Technology Agency (HTX), Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and the police.

Trials are set to be completed by mid-year, with the SCDF and the police keen to tap Rover-X’s help to boost front-line staff’s safety and effectiveness, as well as relieve them of repetitive, routine tasks. 

Rover-X, for example, could help the police by conducting independent patrols. 

A collaboration between HTX, Ghost Robotics, Klass Engineering and Solutions, and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, it was announced during the roll-out of HTX in 2019. 

HTX noted then that it could be deployed as first responders to strengthen disaster rescue work and protect lives.

“Rover-X started out as a robotic dog for search and rescue operations, and we have now broadened its application within the Home Team,” said Mr Ong Ka Hing, deputy director of ground systems in HTX’s robotics, automation and unmanned systems centre of expertise. 

“Our engineers worked closely with the front-line officers to understand their operations and unique requirements, and rigorously tested out many iterations to design and deliver the capabilities that they need.”

Lieutenant-Colonel Kenneth Mak from SCDF’s HazMat department said: “SCDF’s hazmat specialists operate in dynamic and risky environments. The deployment of Rover-X instead of our responders in high-risk areas will improve safety for our people. 

“Combined with the robot’s advanced detection and monitoring capabilities, SCDF can manage hazmat incidents more effectively and safely.” 

For the police, the robot’s ability to follow officers on patrol and constantly scan the environment for threats also makes it a potentially good partner for front-line officers. 

Using video analytics, Rover-X can detect people in unauthorised areas and unattended baggage. It can also conduct security patrols independently and warn police of potential threats early. 

The robots can save on manpower and time spent on repetitive tasks such as reading gauges in large chemical plants. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
The Rover-X’s thermal imaging capabilities as seen during a demonstration at the Home Team Tactical Centre on Jan 20, 2022. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Deputy Superintendent of Police Lim Jim Kai, who is in the future operations and planning department, said: “Rover-X’s ability to detect threats early allows our officers to be better prepared against aggression and violence.” 

By conducting independent patrols, it will allow police officers to focus on more critical tasks and be more effective in their security duties, he added.

HTX engineer Goh Boon Kiat said the agency is also developing the “exploration mode” of the robot, where it would be able to autonomously navigate its way around a place without a pre-mapped route.

Mr Cheng Wee Kiang, director of HTX’s robotics, automation and unmanned systems centre of expertise, said: “The development of Rover-X will transform the way homeland security operations are carried out in the future.”

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