Robocop-style Covid bot ‘hunts down individuals breaking social distancing’

Robots are here to enforce Covid restrictions, they just don’t look like it yet (Shutterstock)

A new Robocop-style Covid bot is chasing people who break the rules of social distancing.

The surveillance robot could help contain the spread of the virus and also aid in contact tracing, scientists say.

They explained how the mobile robot recognizes people in crowds who do not adhere to the rules of distance, navigates to them and “encourages” them to break up.

The study’s lead author, Adarsh ​​Jagan Sathyamoorthy, said: “Previous research has shown that a minimum distance of two meters from others can reduce the spread of Covid-19.

“Technology-based methods – like strategies with WiFi and Bluetooth – promise to detect and prevent failures in social distancing.

“However, many of these approaches require the involvement of individuals or existing infrastructure, so robots have shown themselves to be a potential tool to address social distancing in crowds.”

Now, Mr. Sathyamoorthy and his colleagues have developed a new way of using an autonomous mobile robot for this purpose.


The robot detects non-compliance with social distancing and autonomously navigates to the static group with most of the people in it. The robot encourages the non-compliant pedestrians to move apart by displaying a message on the mounted screen. Credits: Sathyamoorthy et al. / SWNS)

He said the robot can detect violations and navigate to them with its own camera and sensor, and tap into an existing CCTV system if available.

Mr. Sathyamoorthy, a PhD student specializing in robotics, said, “As soon as it reaches the breach, the robot encourages people to move apart via text shown on a mounted display.

“The robot uses a novel system to divide people who have broken the rules of social distancing into different groups, prioritize them based on whether they are still or moving, and then navigate to them.”

He said the system uses a machine learning method known as deep reinforcement learning and Frozone, an algorithm previously developed by several of the same researchers to help robots navigate crowds.

The researchers tested their method by letting volunteers run through socially distant injury scenarios while they were standing still, walking, or moving irregularly.

Your robot was able to detect and fix most of the security breaches that had occurred, and CCTV improved its performance.


Young couple distance themselves on a park bench (Getty)

Brits have been asked to maintain social distancing to stop the spread of Covid (Getty Images)

Mr Sathyamoorthy said, “The robot also uses a thermal imaging camera that can detect people with a potential fever, which aids in contact tracing while including privacy and anonymization measures.”

He said more research is needed to validate and refine the system, such as studying how the presence of robots affects human behavior in crowds.

Mr. Sathyamoorthy added, “Many health care workers and security personnel have had to compromise their health to serve the public during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The main goal of our work is to provide them with tools to serve their communities safely and efficiently.”

The results were published in the journal PLOS One.

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