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The government's latest surveillance devices are robots on wheels, with seven cameras, that issue warnings to the public and detect ‘undesirable social behaviour’.

This includes smoking in prohibited areas, improperly parking bicycles, and breaching coronavirus social-distancing rules.

During a recent patrol, one of the ‘Xavier’ robots wove its way through a housing estate and stopped in front of a group of elderly residents watching a chess match.

"Please keep one-metre distancing, please keep to five persons per group," a robotic voice blared out, as a camera on top of the machine trained its gaze on them.

During a three-week trial in September, two robots were deployed to patrol the housing estate and a shopping centre.

"It reminds me of Robocop," said Frannie Teo, a 34-year-old research assistant, who was walking through the mall.

It brings to mind a "dystopian world of robots... I'm just a bit hesitant about that kind of concept", she added.

Digital rights activist Lee Yi Ting said the devices were the latest way Singaporeans were being watched.

"It all contributes to the sense people... need to watch what they say and what they do in Singapore to a far greater extent than they would in other countries," she told AFP.

But the government defended its use of robots, saying they were not being used to identify or take action against offenders during the tech's trial, and were needed to address a labour crunch as the population ages.

"The workforce is actually shrinking," said Ong Ka Hing, from the government agency that developed the Xavier robots, adding they could help reduce the number of officers needed for foot patrols.

The island of about 5.5 million people has 90,000 police cameras, a number set to double by 2030, and facial recognition tech -- which helps authorities pick out faces in a crowd -- may be installed on lampposts across the city.

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