Since the beginning of May, two Multi-purpose All-Terrain Autonomous Robots, called MATAR, have been deployed at isolated migrant worker dormitories in the eastern part of Singapore as part of the Government’s effort against the COVID-19 outbreak.
The MATAR is used by police to help patrol migrant worker dormitories that have been gazetted as isolation areas to ensure that residents adhere to safe distancing measures.
MATAR is equipped with a 360-degree camera, which covers any blind spots during patrols, as well as a retractable two-metre-tall mast, which can provide a higher vantage point, helping police officers to cover more ground while patrolling.
Inspector Teo Wan Ling, a team leader at Changi Neighbourhood Police Centre told the media that the robots can reduce the need for officers to be physically close to workers who are under quarantine.
However, the robots can only move on a flat ground, so the officers will still need to attend to incidents that happen in a room personally as the robots cannot access to these areas, says Inspector Teo.
Noting that dormitories have a “sizeable” number of workers, Inspector Teo said, “Sometimes when they queue up for their food, they don’t adhere to the safe distancing measures. So in this case, you can just give them a verbal reminder over the Matar.”
She explained that the robot, which has functions such as cameras and speakers, will give verbal reminders to the workers, as the robots are controlled remotely by an operator in a command centre.
“The Matar also plays a deterrent role,” she said, adding that the workers generally tend to adhere to the safe distancing measures when they see the robot patrolling.
She also mentioned that the workers were initially curious about the robots, but slowly got used to it.
Developed by the Home Team Science and Technology Agency’s Robotics, Automation and Unmanned Systems Centre of Expertise, together with ST Engineering and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, the autonomous robot can navigate itself so it can bypass the stationary and moving obstacles in its way.
Aside from this, the police also plans to broadcast anti-scam messages in a few languages through the robot’s speakers, according to Assistant Superintendent of Police Daniel Toh, operations officer in the police’s future operations and planning division.
He explained, “The robot actually helps us to automate some routine as well as mundane tasks, so officers don’t have to travel and do the footwork.
“Instead, these robots can help to reduce human fatigue and perform the jobs available,” he added.
Unfortunately, the deployment of MATAR robots have received unfavourable responses from netizens. Penning their thoughts on the Facebook page of Mothership.sg and The Straits Times, netizens commented that the autonomous robots are “waste of money” and questioned the costs of developing this robot.
A netizen expressed that it will be more useful to purchase more testing kits in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic, instead of wasting money on the robot.
As MATAR only functions as patrol robots, other netizens opined that it does not help much because the robots cannot assist police officers in chasing culprits if there is an emergency. They also questioned the durability of the robot, asking whether the robots are immune from vandalism.
While a few netizens suggested that the autonomous robot should be deployed at Robertson Quay. The netizens are referring to the issue of non-Singaporeans breaching the social distancing measures and gathering at Robertson Quay last week.
Besides criticisms, a few netizens welcomed the innovation of the robots, saying that it is part of the precautions to reduce the risk of infection among frontliners. Not only this, the robots can take photos of those who breach safe distancing rules which would help to save time as well, they added.