The Robot Dog That is Enforcing Social Distancing

In a mere few months, the novel coronavirus has rapidly transformed the way we live our lives. The looming threat of this vile disease has given rise to various shifts in social norms. Previously bizarre concepts, such as wearing face masks, have quickly integrated themselves into our society and have become considered ‘normal’. Arguably the most drastic of these changes has been the rule of social distancing as millions around the globe are not allowed to leave the confines of their home. The enforcement of this policy has proven a great challenge for governments, but Boston Dynamics believe they have a solution.

Spot is a robot designed with remote operation and autonomous sensing in mind. With the model having been available for corporate lease since last year, Spot has already attracted vast amounts of attention for its various applications such as bomb defusing, oil rig inspection and radiation monitoring. And now, the brilliant robot dog is once again showing the world its versatility. Its job this time is simple- keeping everyone six feet apart.

Since the 8th of May, Spot has been patrolling a 4 mile stretch of Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park in Singapore acting as an enforcer of social distancing rules. The robot perceives its surroundings and, when necessary, broadcasts public safety messages such as "Please maintain a safe distance between you and other people”, encouraging park-goers to observe social distancing measures. The initiative is being funded by the Singaporean government as they strive to combat Covid-19 transmission in public spaces. The technology is currently set to be in place on a trial basis for 14 days- however, if all is to go well, there are plans to permanently implement the dog in parks and public areas around the city.

The robot design itself is pretty remarkable.

Unlike traditional robots, Spot doesn’t rely upon a wheel-based mechanism for movement, instead opting to use rigid metal legs to achieve a higher level of dexterity in movement. Furthermore, Spot is primed with a 360-degree camera and LIDAR sensors for situational awareness. These work in tandem with artificial intelligence software in its onboard computers. The result? A robot that is capable of autonomously traversing across rugged terrain without any human input.

Additionally, data processing units use video analytics software giving Spot the capabilities to act as a surveillance tool. It is programmed to collect data about the number of park-goers allowing for local government to assess the safety of these areas. For those concerned about the potential privacy issues surrounding this, Boston Dynamics have asserted that no individuals are tracked nor is any personal data recorded.

Spot sheds light on the changing attitudes towards artificial intelligence and robot workers suggesting that we might just be seeing full-blown use of AI sooner than we think.

Thumbnail Credit: Roslan Rahman/Afp Via Getty Images