Surveillance in Singapore

By: Nicolas Wright

Robots to patrol Toa Payoh for 'undesirable social behaviours' as part of  trial - CNA

In September of 2021, two spybots patrolled popular market locations for illegal activity. These spybots, called “Xavier,” are autonomous wheeled vehicles that are equipped with a camera array on the top. Built and designed by the Singapore’s Home Team Science and Technology Agency, also called HTX. Xavier’s objective is to survey and traverse a specific popular shopping center during a three-week trial. It will look for “undesirable social behaviors” such as smoking in prohibited areas, illegal hawking, sale of illegal goods, improperly parked bicycles within HDB Hub, congregation of more than five people, in line with prevailing Sage Management Measures, motorized active mobility devices and motorcycles on footpaths. 

Upon the detection of an activity, Xavier will send an alert to a command and control center where Humans will make an appropriate decision. A tablet attached to the front of Xavier will display a message to the violators in question to try to “educate the public and deter such behaviors.”

It also has a two-way communication system that allows human officers at the police station to communicate with people through Xavier. However, the robot also has the option to play pre-recorded messages as an alternative too.

Robo Cop Xavier?

Xavier isn’t quite a robo cop and is instead police aid. It’s powers of enforcement extend to use of  its mobile senty camera and alert system which can only call for backup and play safety infomercials. 

In an email from Rachel Tan of HTX, she wrote “I’d like to highlight that Xavier has no enforcement authority, It augments public officers’ operations in enhancing public health and safety by displaying messages to educate the public and deter such behaviors.” Along with Xavier, 9,000 surveillance cameras are placed around Singapore and have Facial Recognition to identify people. By 2030, they plan to have close to or over 200,000 cameras.

This isn’t the first time that Singapore has implemented a surveillance bot to survey an area. In 2020, The Singapore Government used a robotic dog called ‘Spot’ to survey and ensure that park visitors stay at least 6 feet away from each other.

Robot 'dog' roams Singapore park to encourage social distancing - Cities  Today

According to the press release from the Singapore Government, “Spot will be controlled remotely, reducing the manpower required for park patrols and minimizing physical contact among staff, volunteer safe distancing ambassadors and park visitors. This lowers the risk of exposure to the virus,¨ They also inform the public that ¨Spot is fitted with safety sensors to detect objects and people in its path. It has [built-in] algorithms to detect an object or person within one meter of its proximity to avoid collision.”

Made by Boston Dynamics and revealed in 2016, it was marketed as a robotic dog that is able to map its environment to properly navigate it, avoid obstacles, open doors and even fetch you a drink. It has been used to automate remote or hazardous inspections and data capture in construction sites. NASA has even used Spot during its Jet propulsion lab to explore martian- like caves and the energy giant Nations; Grid is using pot to keep it’s employees safe and ensure uptime at a critical facility.

The uses of robots are increasing and because of their uses, they may become more part of our society. A world that is filled with robots that assist humans with their day-to-day activities that we see as a Dystopian world is slowly becoming reality. What do you think?

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