Singapore Deploys Robots to Detect “Undesirable Social Behaviors”

Robots to Detect

Two robots named Xavier patrol public spaces and instruct people to follow norms for three weeks.

In its latest bid to strengthen surveillance, Singapore deployed two robots to police bad behavior in public places. According to the press release shared by the Home Team Science and Technology Agency (HTX) of Singapore, the robots detected behavior such as the flouting of Covid-19 norms, smoking in prohibited areas, illegal hawking, improper parking of bicycles, and riding motorcycles on walking paths. In addition to that, they also educated people on “proper behavior”. 

This three-week scheme was initiated by five agencies, including the HTX, National Environment Agency, Land Transport Authority (LTA), Singapore Food Agency, and the Housing Board.

Meet Xavier: the two patrol robots

The two robots named Xavier come with 360-degree vision cameras. These can detect “undesirable” behavior and trigger alerts. The agency said, “Once Xavier detects any of the [behaviors], it will trigger real-time alerts to the command and control centre.” The command center then responds to the alerts by issuing a warning using the two-way intercom installed in the robot.

The robots were trained for four months. HTX fed the robots publicly available images of smokers and the like to help them identify certain behaviors. After that, on September 5, 2021, the agency kicked off a three-week-long trial in Toa Payoh Central. 

What Singapore aims to achieve with this

As of 2021, Singapore is the third-safest country in the world. The country has been working with robots for a while now to boost its safety measures further. Xavier is yet another notch on their belt. As per HTX, deploying Xavier will “support the work of public officers as it will reduce the manpower required for foot patrols and improve [operational] efficiency.” 

In the press release, LTA’s Director of Enforcement and Compliance Management Calvin Ng noted that the robots could “potentially augment” Singapore’s enforcement presence. They will deter people from riding their motorcycles on footpaths and inform police officers if they spot any “egregious” behavior. It would help bolster their “physical enforcement efforts.” According to the Director of HTX’s Robotics, Automation & Unmanned Systems Centre of Expertise Cheng Wee Kiang, this collaboration of five agencies enables the government to “build a strong ops-tech ecosystem and continue enhancing public health and safety.”

Singapore’s foray into robotic tech for safety

The country has been experimenting with robots to amplify its surveillance resources. For example, in May 2020, Singapore deployed a robotic dog aptly named “Spot” to spot park-goers who weren’t socially distant. Then, Spot would urge them to do so using a pre-recorded message. 

It would not be a surprise to see further developments in the short term. Afterall, as the Singapore Food Agency’s East Regional Office Director Lily Ling said, “The adoption of robotics technology can be used to enhance such operations, and reduce the need for our officers to do physical patrols.” 

From robots that pick, sort and recycle trash to those that protect and police citizens—there is plenty that startups venturing into the robotics tech space can do.

Header Image by Flickr

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