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Robot dog deployed in Singapore to enforce social distancing

A four-legged robot has been deployed in Singapore’s Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park to enforce social distancing measures amid the COVID-19 crisis.

The robot dog named Spot transmits a recorded message reminding the public to observe a distance of one meter (three feet) in an apparent effort to reduce the risk of the coronavirus spreading.

Originally developed by American company Boston Dynamics before it was sold to Japanese conglomerate SoftBank, ‘Spot’ is fitted with cameras enabled by GovTech-developed video analytics (The Government Technology Agency of Singapore) which helps it to calculate the number of visitors in the parks.

The cameras are said to not track or recognize specific individuals or collect any personal data, but that does not rule out the possibility of having the means to do so further down the line, or being used in conjunction with other devices that could do so.

The robot is currently remote-controlled, but developers hope it can achieve full autonomy in the near future.  

It is not the first high-tech device that Singapore has used to monitor its citizens. In April, an autonomous robot known as O-R3 was deployed at Bedok Reservoir Park by national water agency PUB, which possesses a 360-degree camera and reminds joggers to keep their distance.

Beyond these forms of high-tech surveillance being deployed in the city-state, 30 drones are also being used in selected parks to allow the government to track occupancy levels and density.

Singapore has suffered just 20 deaths out of 22,460 positive coronavirus cases (as of May 9, 2020), which equates to a death rate of less than 0.9 percent, leading many to question the necessity of such intrusive high-tech devices to monitor citizens.

COVID-19 brings science-fiction to reality

The COVID-19 crisis has seen the normalization of high-tech measures being adopted, which not too long ago were the mere workings of science fiction writers.

The robot dogs being deployed in Singapore may look familiar to viewers of British dystopian sci-fi and often prophetic television series Black Mirror.

In the episode named ‘Metalhead’, dog-like robots bearing an eerie resemblance to Spot turn on humanity, and begin brutally hunting down their homosapien adversaries.

Excessive measures demand public scrutiny

In a time of global panic, governments around the world are able to justify the deployment of intrusive high-tech measures, but the extremely low death rate coupled with the inevitability that these devices will remain intact long after the virus has subsided, it is crucial for the public to hold its leaders to account and question their actual necessity.


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