Singapore had one of the most successful initial responses to the coronavirus pandemic, praised by experts around the world for its low infection rate with no fatalities, even as the rest of the world saw their own numbers skyrocket. Then a second wave caught the city-state by surprise in April and led to the government taking new, draconian measures to stop the spread. Last month, leadership announced social distancing violations would carry a penalty of up to six months in jail, and now the country has a new enforcer for those rules: Boston Dynamics' famous robo pooch, Spot, trained to break up gatherings at local parks.
Spot has already started patrolling the River Plains section of Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, a popular gathering place for Singaporeans, during off-hours. During its guard dog duty, the robotic pooch is equipped with a pre-recorded message about the importance of maintaining social distance that it regularly blasts out through its speakers. The bot is also equipped with cameras that will scan the park and provide estimates on how many people are gathering. The government has provided assurances that the cameras won't be used to track people and can't recognize specific people or collect personally identifiable data.
According to the government, the test run of Spot's social distance enforcement task will last about two weeks. If successful, it is expected that more Spots will crop up around parks throughout Singapore. Using the robots, which can be controlled remotely, allows the government to cut down on the number of people it needs to patrol the park manually and limits the potential for physical contact between park employees and visitors. The Spot bots also provide the unique advantage of being able to handle different types of terrain thanks to its ability to walk, making it a better park monitor than wheeled alternatives that would likely get bogged down in grass and dirt.
Singapore has opted for the high-tech route in dealing with its recent coronavirus outbreak, with underwhelming outcomes. Back in March, when the infection rate was still relatively low, the country released a Bluetooth-based contact tracing app called TraceTogether. Its results have been less than stellar thanks in large part due to a lack of adoption and have led to some officials in the country warning about over-reliance on technology in handling the spread of coronavirus.
While Singapore is the first known municipality to use Boston Dynamics' famous robot dog to enforce social distancing rules, it certainly isn't the first to embrace technology for that purpose. Last month, the city of Westport, Connecticut announced that its police force would use drones to encourage people to keep their distance and to take temperatures of citizens. A number of cities have embraced drones for similar purposes, including Daytona Beach, Florida, and Savannah, Georgia. Surveillance companies have also taken to marketing their services toward coronavirus detection in an attempt to capitalize on the sudden demand.