Singapore trials patrol robots to deter bad social behaviour

A trial of robot dog Spot in New York ended early after public backlash.
A trial of robot dog Spot in New York ended early after public backlash. Photo credit: Reuters

Singapore has begun trialling robots to patrol public areas and deter bad behaviour in its latest effort to further augment its portfolio of surveillance tools.

But don't worry, the robots aren't like the ones seen in movies like The Terminator or Robocop and won't be able to attack humans.

Ranked one of the safest countries in the world, Singapore has put two autonomous robots on trial to detect bad behaviour such as flouting of COVID-19 safety measures, smoking in prohibited areas and the improper parking of bicycles, Singapore's Home Team Science and Technology Agency said in a statement.

It said the two patrol robots, named Xavier, are equipped with cameras that can detect bad social behaviour and trigger real-time alerts to the command-and-control centre.

The trial is taking place in an area with high foot traffic in central Singapore.

The agency said that during the three-week trial, the robots would be used for surveillance and displaying messages to educate the public on proper behaviour.

A spokesperson from the agency said the robots would not be used for law enforcement during the trial.

"The deployment of Xavier will support the work of public officers as it will reduce the manpower required for foot patrols and improve operation efficiency," the agency said.

Singapore's home affairs minister, K Shanmugam, said in August the city-state aimed to have more than 200,000 police cameras by 2030, more than double the current number of cameras deployed across the island state in Southeast Asia.

It's unclear whether the Singapore robots will get the same level of public scrutiny as a robot dog did in the United States when it was introduced in December last year.

The New York Police Department (NYPD) ended its US$94,000 (NZ$130,000) contract with Boston Dynamics early after it received backlash over the use of Spot.

The purpose of the robot dog, the NYPD said, was to help officers better identify dangers at crime scenes by surveying hazardous areas.

But early this year a viral video of the robot in action patrolling a Bronx neighbourhood sparked controversy, with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez calling it a "robotic surveillance ground drone".

"Please ask yourself: when was the last time you saw next-generation, world-class technology for education, healthcare, housing, etc consistently prioritised for underserved communities like this?" she tweeted at the time.