Robots could be rolled out for security patrols at train stations

SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/ANN) - Developed by ST Engineering, the 1.6m-tall robot is equipped with seven cameras to allow it to have a 360-degree view of its surroundings.

That watchful figure helping to guard your MRT station or bus interchange may soon be a robot.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) confirmed this after deploying one such robot at Hougang MRT station to test its navigational and surveillance capabilities.

"The use of unmanned robots could potentially complement the deployment of security officers in the future," said the LTA.

Developed by ST Engineering, the 1.6m-tall robot is equipped with seven cameras to allow it to have a 360-degree view of its surroundings. It is equipped with an in-built global positioning system (GPS) as well as sensors such as Lidar, which bounces lasers off objects, allowing it to patrol designated areas.

In future, the robot could even come with video and audio analytics technology, the LTA said.

"Through today's exercise, we will assess its potential to complement on-site surveillance needed for public transport incident management," said the LTA's public transport security deputy director Joseph Goh.

A similar robot was also deployed by the Singapore Police Force to patrol the Suntec Singapore International Convention and Exhibition Centre during the 33rd Asean Summit last month.

The control console for the LTA's robot was located within a nearby incident response vehicle that was equipped with telecommunications equipment and a camera system. This allowed it to transmit live footage to the LTA's Land Transport Operations Centre at its headquarters in Hampshire Road.

Robots are increasingly being used for security purposes.

Last month, a robot equipped with artificial intelligence was tested for five days at the Seibu-Shinjuku train station in Tokyo. It could alert station staff via smartphones if it detected suspicious objects or people.

Yesterday, the LTA robot did its duty during an emergency preparedness exercise dubbed Exercise Station Guard, where commuters had to go through metal detectors and put their belongings through X-ray scanners. It was the third such operation by the LTA this year.

Earlier exercises were conducted at Newton station in February, and Holland Village station in July.

This exercise is separate from a six-month trial of increased checks at selected MRT stations, which began last month, and which also employs X-ray scanners and metal detectors as part of efforts to enhance security on public transport.

Transport nodes remain attractive targets for terrorists, said Dr Rohan Gunaratna, who heads the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

He noted that in 2010, a marked map of Singapore's MRT network was found in the home of a terror suspect killed in Indonesia, with the Orchard station circled.

"What is essential is to train not only security personnel, but non-security staff serving MRT stations, to detect suspicious activity. Working with commuters to raise public awareness is paramount," he said.