The Boston Dynamics robot known as Spot has been deployed to a park in Singapore to remind people they should follow social distancing guidelines during the pandemic, according to a new report from Singapore’s top government technology agency. And it almost feels like the robots are there to taunt us as this point, because unlike robots, humans can die from disease.
The new four-legged robot, which was set loose today in Bishan-Ang Mo Kio park, broadcasts a message reminding visitors they need to stay away from other humans, as covid-19 poses a very serious threat to our health. Spot was made available for purchase by businesses and governments last year and has specially designed cameras to make sure it doesn’t run into things.
“These cameras will not be able to track and/or recognise specific individuals, and no personal data will be collected,” according to a press release from Singapore’s GovTech agency.
The Spot model being trialed today has been outfitted with custom software developed by GovTech to estimate how many people are in the park at any given time. The trial of Spot will last through May 22 and an employee of Singapore’s National Parks Board (NParks) will keep a close eye on the robot during this test period.
Technically, Spot can climb stairs and has a payload capacity of 30 pounds, but it doesn’t look like the little robot has to do any heavy lifting at the park. At least until someone decides Spot should start enforcing social distancing rather than just reminding people that it’s a good idea.
Spot, which has a maximum battery life of roughly 90 minutes, has already been outfitted with special arms in the U.S. so that it can open doors for police, something that the ACLU isn’t too happy about, to say the least. Police around the world seem pretty excited about the possibilities of Spot though, as this new trial in Singapore makes clear.
The park in Singapore is also posting signs about the new trial, encouraging people not to “disrupt” the robot, though it’s not clear what you could do to really disrupt the little thing. Maybe try to ride it? Spot has been known to pull a large truck in the past.
Just received the most Singaporean pandemic content from a mate based in the little red dot pic.twitter.com/vqgnQ5F4D9
— Soon-Tzu Speechley 孫子 (@speechleyish) May 8, 2020
Other people made jokes on Twitter about “nature healing” now that the robots have made their way to Singapore’s parks. Spot is often referred to as a robotic dog.
Singapore was widely lauded for its ability to control the spread of covid-19 in the early days of the pandemic. But that’s changed dramatically over the past few weeks. Cases are surging in Singapore, with an estimated 90 per cent of new coronavirus infections occurring in cramped housing for foreign workers.
Singapore currently has identified 21,707 cases and 20 deaths from covid-19, based on the latest figures from the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracker, including 768 new cases in just the past 24 hours. The city-state obviously hopes that technology can help turn the tide as things get worse.
But it’s not just land-based robots that will assist Singapore’s authorities during the coronavirus crisis. They’re also using dozens of drones to keep an eye on things, much like some U.S. police departments have done in recent months.
“A total of 30 drones are also being deployed in selected parks and nature areas to provide officers with a high vantage point to obtain visitorship updates quickly, complementing ground observations, as well as give them a better sense of the density of visitors in a specific area,” according to a press release from Singapore’s GovTech.
And this isn’t the first time that a park in Singapore has seen a little robot deployed to remind humans they should be social distancing. Last month, a remote-controlled robot named O-R3 was first used to broadcast audio messages encouraging people not to loiter in parks and gardens.
Any reference to Spot inevitably draws comparisons to the 2017 Black Mirror episode titled “Metalhead.” And with good reason.
The Black Mirror episode revolves around humans who are on a mission to obtain something out of a warehouse, but they’re hunted by four-legged robots that look a lot like the real-life Spot from Boston Dynamics.
The fictional version of Spot is equipped with weapons, something that Boston Dynamics hasn’t given its robots. Yet.