Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot has made U.S. headlines many times over the years. Last November, the Massachusetts State Police revealed they were testing Spot in certain law enforcement situations. In 2018, footage of SpotMini robots surfaced of them opening doors for one another and easily traversing rough terrain.
Now, Spot’s influence is building overseas. Singapore plans to use the four-legged robot to encourage social distancing. The canine machine will patrol one local park and broadcast a pre-recorded message encouraging visitors to practice social distancing.
Spot will also use cameras to scan surroundings and help officials estimate how many people are gathering in parks. The cameras themselves will not have recognition capabilities. Additionally, Spot will not collect personal data about park visitors.
Singapore Turning to Technology
When the coronavirus first began spreading globally, Singapore was a leading example of how to respond appropriately to a novel pandemic. However, the city-state has fallen victim to the second wave. The number of cases has skyrocketed since mid-March to over 24,000.
The government is now turning to technology to clamp down further on COVID-19. Two months ago, the country launched a contact-tracing app that helps users determine if they have been near someone who has tested positive.
With Spot, Singapore hopes to automate social distancing enforcement. Government leaders chose Boston Dynamics’ creation due to its agility and navigation capabilities. “Unlike wheeled robots, Spot works well across different terrains and can navigate obstacles effectively, making it ideal for operation in public parks and gardens,” the government announced in a statement.
The park pilot will run for two weeks during non-peak times. A park ranger will patrol alongside Spot during testing. Officials could expand the program after the initial period if it proves useful.
Spot’s Role Expanding
Outside of the park pilot, Singapore is also using Spot to deliver medications to patients in a local isolation facility. The application is highlighting that the canine robot can be useful for purposes beyond construction and law enforcement.
Overall, COVID-19 is accelerating how people think about robots in the public sphere. Previously, much attention has gone to how machines can assist in dangerous industrial settings. However, it seems that a global health crisis is another situation in which virus-immune robots can be helpful.
Spot is at the forefront of this movement, which is helping affirm Boston Dynamics’ mission of “changing your idea of what robots can do.”
Machines Aiding in COVID-19 Response Efforts
Boston Dynamics is supporting the COVID-19 response effort in other ways. In April, the company announced it is working on a new system that should reduce coronavirus exposure for frontline workers. Spot has reportedly already been operating in one Boston-area hospital for several weeks. The robot is helping healthcare professionals triage patients through a mobile telemedicine platform.
Another U.S.-based startup, Zipline, is using drones to deliver crucial supplies to local clinics for chronic care in Ghana and Rwanda. The company aims to free up capacity in hospitals to treat coronavirus patients. Zipline is also reportedly working on obtaining the necessary credentials to fly in U.S. commercial space for domestic drop-offs.
Despite all of the pain and disruption that COVID-19 brings, it is promoting innovation in many areas. As countries ease lockdown restrictions, we are likely to see leaders use technology in other novel ways to protect their citizens.