With social distancing orders in place, governments and law enforcement agencies have had to navigate how exactly to enforce such orders. How can the government go about balancing public health concerns with wanting to avoid overreaching? This dynamic has led to some bizarre headlines, such as a group of golfers being arrested for crossing the Rhode Island/Massachusetts border, or a park ranger in Texas being shoved into a lake.
Other cities have gotten more creative, including the use of social distancing enforcement drones, which broadcast messages asking people not to congregate outdoors. Police have used such drones in New Jersey, Florida, and various European countries, although a drone that appeared in New York City last month was not authorized by any law enforcement agency, as the flying of drones is mostly illegal in that city.
Now, one city in Asia is trying another creative solution for social distancing: A robotic dog.
According to Straits Times, a yellow four-legged robot called SPOT will be patrolling Singapore's Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park and other public locations, while playing a recorded message "reminding park visitors to observe safe distancing measures." SPOT was developed by the well-known American robotics firm Boston Dynamics.
SPOT will have cameras, in order to "help it estimate the number of visitors in the parks," but will not identify individuals or collect personal data.
It's part of a two-week pilot trial, conducted by Singapore's National Parks Board, and the Smart Nation and Digital Government Group (SNDGG.) In addition to Spot, the parks board will also deploy 30 drones. SPOT’s use does not appear to be a law enforcement effort.
"The robot SPOT (pictured on the right) is being trialled at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park from 8 May to 22 May 2020 as part of a collaboration between NParks and GovTech," a flier that appeared in the park, and posted to Twitter, said. "SPOT is able to traverse through various terrains autonomously and will aid in ensuring safe distancing in parks and gardens. We seek your cooperation not to disrupt it."
There have been no reports of such robotic dogs being deployed in the U.S. for social distancing purposes.
Boston Dynamics' Spot, which has been available since 2019, is described by the company as "a nimble robot that climbs stairs and traverses rough terrain with unprecedented ease, yet is small enough to use indoors. Built to be a rugged and customizable platform, Spot has an industry track record in remote operation and autonomous sensing."
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons.