Image: Home Team Science and Technology Agency

In the 21st century, robots play an increasingly critical role in the global economy and our day-to-day lives, from transforming traditionally manual human tasks to providing emotional support. On Sunday, Singapore’s Home Team Science and Technology Agency (HTX) published a release detailing a project designed to remotely monitor public spaces via robot. The roving machine called Xavier could assist with remote monitoring, but the similarities to a policing robot could raise a few eyebrows.

“Xavier can potentially augment our enforcement presence and deter errant active mobility behavior on footpaths,” said Calvin Ng, the Land Transport Authority’s director of enforcement and compliance, in a press release. “It could also provide intelligence on new hotspots or areas where egregious active mobility users have been spotted to help focus our physical enforcement efforts.”

Spotting “undesirable” behaviors

Overall, the multiagency project uses a wheeled HTX robot the agency described as “similar” to the Multi-purpose All-Terrain Autonomous Robot (M.A.T.A.R.) the Singapore Police Force has deployed during parades and other celebrations, according to the government release. A three-week robotic trial period started on Sunday where the robots will autonomously “weave” through groups of people at Toa Payoh Central to identify “undesirable” behaviors.

These behaviors include smoking in certain areas, “illegal hawking,” the gathering of groups larger than five people as part of the COVID-related safety measures, “improperly parked bicycles” and the use of certain motorized devices and vehicles on footpaths. If the bot detects any of these instances, the command and control team is alerted and a scenario-specific message is displayed to “educate the public and deter such behaviours,” the release said.

“The deployment of ground robots will help to augment our surveillance and enforcement resources. For instance, the surveillance of illegal hawkers can be manpower intensive as officers need to be deployed at various areas across the island,” said Lily Ling, Singapore Food Agency’s director of the east regional office, in a press release. “The adoption of robotics technology can be used to enhance such operations, and reduce the need for our officers to do physical patrols.”

Deployment advantages

In addition to reducing the “manpower required for foot patrols,” a portion of the release outlines other deployment advantages. This includes autonomous navigation enabled via a series of sensors and this allows the unit to steer clear of “stationary and dynamic obstacles such as pedestrians and vehicles along its patrol route configured in advance by public officers.”

Onboard cameras provide 360-degree video and captured data is streamed to an AI-enabled video analytics system, where “real-time sensing and analysis” allow officers to “activate additional resources to respond to on-ground situations when necessary,” per the release. An interactive dashboard details information related to performance and enables officers to concurrently control multiple vehicles and “remotely respond to incidents on the ground via a two-way intercom or using pre-recorded audio messages.”