Aggressive new Covid robot hunts down people breaking social distancing rules

A new autonomous mobile robot, built to find people breaking coronavirus social-distancing rules, has been unveiled.

Created by Adarsh Jagan Sathyamoorthy, a PhD Student at University of Maryland, and colleagues, the robot will be able to detect people in crowds, who are not keeping to the social distancing laws.

It will travel in-between them and “encourage” separation.

Mr Sathyamoorthy said, in the journal PLoS One: “Previous research has shown that staying at least two metres apart from others can reduce the spread of Covid-19.

“Technology-based methods – such as strategies using WiFi and Bluetooth – hold promise to help detect and discourage lapses in social distancing.

“However, many such approaches require participation from individuals or existing infrastructure, so robots have emerged as a potential tool for addressing social distancing in crowds.

“The robot uses a novel system to sort people who have breached social distancing rules into different groups, prioritise them according to whether they are standing still or moving, and then navigate to them.”

Details of exactly how or what the machine will actually do are scant, but Mr Sathyamoorthy did state that a machine-learning system known as Deep Reinforcement Learning, coupled with an algorithm called Frozone will be used.

The latter was developed a few years ago to help robots find their way around crowds.

The robot has been tested in a variety of different scenarios, such as standing still, walking or moving erratically – it was able to detect and address most of the breaches that occurred, and CCTV enhanced its performance.

It also uses a thermal camera to detect potential al fevers, and aid contact-tracing efforts.

For those who worry about privacy, it will use a method of de-identification to stop any potential privacy breaches.

Mr Sathyamoorthy added: “A lot of healthcare workers and security personnel had to put their health at risk to serve the public during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Our work's core objective is to provide them with tools to safely and efficiently serve their communities.”

So far, there are no details on whether or not any countries have expressed an interest in purchasing the device.

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