Autonomous robots check on bad behaviour in Singapore’s heartland

SINGAPORE – An autonomous robot designed to help weed out bad public behaviour has made its way into the heartland.

Called Xavier, it will patrol the neighbourhood in Toa Payoh Central as part of a three-week trial starting on Sunday (Sept 5).

Two of these robots will be on the lookout for illegal hawkers, smokers who light up in prohibited areas, errant motorcycle and e-scooter riders on footpaths, and gatherings that exceed the current limits on group sizes.

With cameras that have a 360-degree field of vision and can see in the dark, the robot will be able to alert public officers in real time to these “undesirable social behaviours”, the authorities said.

It will also be able to display messages educating the public against such behaviour.

This is the first time that an autonomous robot is being used to patrol and survey a public area with high foot traffic to enhance public health and safety, said the five public agencies involved in the joint project.

The agencies are the Home Team Science and Technology Agency (HTX), National Environment Agency, Land Transport Authority (LTA), Singapore Food Agency and the Housing Board.

They said Xavier, developed by HTX in partnership with the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, will help to improve operational efficiency and reduce manpower needed for foot patrols.

This is especially so for manpower-intensive operations such as the surveillance of illegal hawkers.

It is similar to the police’s Multi-purpose All-Terrain Autonomous Robots, or Matar, which have been deployed during large public events such as the National Day Parade, Marina Bay Countdown and Chingay.

These tireless “patrolmen” have also been used to enforce social distancing in a foreign worker dormitory and a government quarantine facility.

Other autonomous robots have also surfaced amid the Covid-19 pandemic, reminding the public to keep a safe distance apart in parks and near reservoirs.

Autonomous robots check on bad behaviour in Singapore’s heartland

Autonomous robots check on bad behaviour in Singapore’s heartland

The agencies said Xavier is fitted with different sensors so it can avoid both stationary and dynamic obstacles, such as pedestrians and vehicles, along its patrol route.

The route is configured in advance.

It can beam back images and videos to a command and control centre, where public officers are able to monitor and control multiple robots simultaneously.

These officers can respond to incidents remotely through Xavier’s two-way intercom, or by using pre-recorded audio messages.

The data that Xavier collects is also put through a video analytics system developed by HTX that can help public officers gain better insight and activate additional resources if necessary.

An autonomous robot is being used for the first time to patrol and survey a public area with high foot traffic. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

For instance, these analytics could provide information on new hot spots for errant active mobility device users and help to focus its physical enforcement efforts, said Mr Calvin Ng, LTA’s director of enforcement and compliance management.

HTX’s robotics, automation and unmanned systems centre of expertise director Cheng Wee Kiang said: “With Xavier, we are able to force-multiply agencies beyond the Home Team by augmenting their workforce needs and achieve greater operational efficiency on a single robotic platform.

“This synergy enables government agencies to build a strong ops-tech ecosystem and continue enhancing public health and safety.”