Mr Mathan Muthupillai, chairman and technical director of Techmetics Solutions, with Techi, an autonomous service robot.
(Photograph provided courtesy of SPRING Singapore, from SPRINGnews September 2016.)
By Janice Wu
"Anything you can do I can do better; I can do anything better than you!" This line from the song “Anything You Can Do” can be used to describe the slightly guarded reception towards robots in the workplace. But some of this anxiety can be dispelled once bosses explain that robots will handle mainly mundane, menial and repetitive tasks, taking much drudgery out of work.
Enter Techi, an autonomous service robot created by Techmetics, a Singapore-based robotics and IT solutions company, to help hospitality and F&B establishments improve their productivity and efficiency.
Mathan Muthupillai, chairman and technical director of Techmetics Solutions, said, “In the F&B environment, we wanted to automate the front-of-house operations as much as possible. First, we automated the ordering process. After that, we wanted to automate the delivery service from the kitchen to the patron’s table.”
Founded in 2012, the company’s chief goal was to introduce productivity improvement solutions to the market. Its first product was a tablet-based menu ordering solution, which has since caught on among various F&B outlets in Singapore.
The company went on to develop service robots, which dovetails with its plan to provide end-to-end solutions to its customers.
How does it work?
There are currently seven different Techi robots for the hospitality and F&B industries. What sets them apart from other robots that are used in the market in Asia is their completely autonomous nature. This means Techis make their own decisions about how to get to a place within a building, working out how to handle obstacles in their way.
To illustrate these points, Mr Mathan used the analogy of a train and a taxi. “(The train) only follows a fixed path while the other can make decisions on the spot to reach its destination in the quickest time given the circumstances.”
Techmetics’ technology enables its robots to communicate with in-house facilities, such as lifts and doors, accenting its completely autonomous nature.
Mr Mathan said it took the company about a year and a half to commercialise Techi. Although the company had a solution as early as 2015, it has made repeated improvements from the feedback it received. “Furthermore, we were bootstrapped and didn't rely on grants or investments to create the robot solutions,” he added.
Techis at work
Today, they are seeing results. In the local hospitality sector, Techi was deployed at Park Avenue Rochester Hotel, and manages linen and room service delivery, as well as table service delivery at the hotel’s Cali Café & Bar.
“The robots deliver clean linen directly to guest floors in the wee hours of the night, allowing housekeeping staff to immediately start work after their daily morning meeting,” said Mr Mathan. The hotel’s housekeepers now focus on turning over more rooms, while its restaurant staff can remain more responsive to customer requests.
Although customers generally respond positively to Techis, the company knows not to be complacent. He recounted one example of feedback they are working on now. “There was a guest who liked receiving items from a robot, but commented that perhaps the robot could be more interactive to give customers a more human touch, which is also what we’re working on in the near future.” The company will improve the interactive features in Techi to give it a greater dash of personality.
Another example of the robot’s application is in the healthcare industry. Its size, autonomous nature and maneuverability make it ideal for hospital ward delivery of items such as food and medicine, as opposed to traditional robots which can be up to three times larger, and can only deliver to specific dropoff points. This has led to its adoption by a healthcare facility in Australia.
When asked how he convinces business owners to adopt Techis and more broadly, to embrace digitalisation, Mr Mathan said the first step is showing customers what his technology can do and how it can help improve their work processes.
However, he acknowledged that there are customers with a more traditional outlook on business, and others who are price-sensitive and will take more time to convince.
For the latter, Techmetics has developed a leasing model that gives business owners the option to lease its robots for between one to three years. With this arrangement, Mr Mathan’s customers get to experience first-hand the impact robots can make on their business operations, before placing a bigger commitment to this technology.
Mr Mathan foresees that robots will perform mundane and menial tasks across industries in the future. He said, “Robots are not meant to take over jobs, but to supplement current workflows to make them more efficient.