By Eliza Victoria
As one of Asia Pacific’s top innovation hubs, Singapore has always embraced the use of robotic technology. In fact, as of 2019, Singapore has 658 industrial robots per 10,000 workers. This is the second highest robot density in the world, trailing only South Korea.
With each passing year, it looks like automation will only increase. For the past five years, Singapore’s National Robotics Programme has focused on the developing and deploying robots across various industries. In the built environment sector, for instance, robots not only improve efficiency, but also free human workers from repetitive or even potentially dangerous tasks.
Experts say the use of robots can boost the Singaporean economy by $100 billion by 2030.
Amid the coronavirus outbreak, the island-state made headlines around the world when it deployed a four-legged robotic dog to ensure safe distancing in the Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park. Nicknamed Spot, the robot “barks” a pre-recorded message to remind park visitors to observe safe distancing. But Spot isn’t the only robot you can spot around Singapore. Here are five other robots you can seek out as you explore the city.
1. Run into safe distancing ambassador O-R3 at Bedok and Pandan Reservoir
If you’ve ever gone walking or jogging at the Bedok and Pandan Reservoir, you may have noticed a tiny white robot car driving down the pedestrian paths and broadcasting safe distancing messages in four languages. This is O-R3, who has been serving as a ‘safe distancing ambassador’ since April. Many in the workforce have been taken the opportunity to upskill during the pandemic, and O-R3 is no exception.
Built by Singapore robotics manufacture Otsaw, O-R3 was originally part of a pilot trial by national water agency Public Utilities Board (PUB) last year, meant to enhance monitoring and surveillance operations at its plants and reservoirs. After the onset of COVID-19, the robot was then redeployed to patrol the reservoir and broadcast safe distancing reminders.
With the country easing its circuit breaker measures, 17 August was actually O-R3’s last day of “work” as a safe distancing ambassador. Still, the charming robot car will surely be fondly remembered by the regulars at Bedok and Pandan reservoirs.
2. Watch the coronavirus-zapping Sunburst UV bot from a distance at Northpoint City
While many establishments are using disinfectant wipes or sprays to sterilise surfaces, Frasers Property Retail is kicking it up a notch with a robot armed with ultraviolet-C (UVC) light at Northpoint City mall.
The Sunburst UV robot, developed by PBA Robotics, blasts UVC to rid the mall of the coronavirus. UVC has the shortest wavelength and highest energy of the three types of UV (A, B, and C), making it capable of damaging the DNA of disease-causing microorganisms. To minimise potential harm to humans, however, the robot currently only operates after mall hours and shuts down automatically when it detects a person nearby. In this case, it may be better to try to catch a quick glimpse of the Sunburst UV robot as you leave the mall!
3. Get a helping hand from PAL, Decathlon Singapore’s inventory whiz
Counting stock is a laborious, time-intensive endeavor that takes Decathlon Singapore’s team away from high-level activities like making decisions and speaking to customers. Major sports retailer Decathlon turned to robotics to simplify the inventory process at the Decathlon Singapore Lab and newly-opened flagship experience store at The Centrepoint by deploying PAL, an automated robot that can count the stores’ entire stock in a few hours.
Fitted with lasers and sensors, PAL—named after its designer, PAL Robotics—can easily move about the shelves, scan RFID-tagged items and generate a 3D map which will then guide staff about the products’ locations and stock level. But PAL is just the start for Decathlon Singapore. Now, the team is looking to explore future projects involving human-to-machine collaboration.
4. Say hi to Yi-Wei and Ella, robot cleaners with personality at various landmarks in Singapore
Singapore-proud robotics company LionsBot International is hoping to re-energise the cleaning sector by producing cleaning robots that are productive and chock-full of personality! With their expressive eyes and voices, LionsBot’s robots can even tell you a joke as they go about their duties.
Last year, two robots were deployed at the newly opened Jewel Changi Airport and at the National Gallery Singapore. The robot Yi-Wei pulls a 1,000-litre bin and collects garbage at the airport, while Ella scrubs the floors at the National Gallery Singapore. Another Ella has been deployed to join the housekeeping staff at Alexandra Hospital in June of this year, boosting the hospital’s cleaning regimen as a response to the pandemic.
5. RAVE about the Rapid Automated Volume Enhancer’s speedy coronavirus testing
Singapore has one of the highest COVID-19 testing rates in the world at 49,000 tests per million people, but it continues to find innovative ways to increase its testing capacity for the coronavirus. One such innovation is RAVE, or Rapid Automated Volume Enhancer, which was designed to automate the manual steps required in processing samples for testing in the laboratory, such as uncapping tubes and pipetting.
This robotics lab system, developed by the Agency of Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR)’s Advanced Remanufacturing and Technology Centre (ARTC), Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology (SIMTech) and Diagnostics Development (DxD) Hub, complements RESOLUTE 2.0, a newly developed COVID-19 testing kit that halves the delivery time of a conventional polymerase chain reaction test.
Meanwhile, Singapore-based medical technology company Advanced MedTech will distribute the RAVE system and RESOLUTE 2.0 tests to boost the COVID-19 testing capacities of local healthcare facilities.
Together, the integrated system accelerates COVID-19 testing while maintaining accuracy and saving costs on manpower.
Both have been deployed to five local test laboratories.
BONUS: Stay safe with the Ministry of Communications and Information’s robot patrol!
Though Singapore is slowly charting the path to Phase 3, maintaining safe distancing and routinely disinfecting public spaces is still of utmost importance. At the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI), a robot manufactured by Singapore-based robotics company Weston has been ensuring the safety of MCI visitors and staff since 7 September 2020.
MCI’s level 1 common area is patrolled by a safe distancing robot, which is equipped with state-of-the-art scene understanding modules from the Infocomm Media Development Authority’s (IMDA) Digital Services Laboratory. These modules provide the robot with the ability to detect nearby humans as well as distinguish between living individuals and images of humans on posters, as well as mannequins. Over 100,000 images were used to train the modules, which were later integrated into Weston’s robot.
Armed with scene understanding and artificial intelligence (AI) vision capabilities, the safe distancing robot can estimate the distances between people—whether they’re standing still or moving and walking around in groups—and warn them if the distance is less than one metre. In addition, its mask detection technology allows the robot to remind offenders to properly wear their masks.
Now that you know where to find robots in Singapore, you can crack up at Yi-Wei or Ella’s jokes, watch PAL count stock in Decathlon or visit the watchful safe distancing robot at MCI. Keep an eye out for other innovative robotic technologies and remember to listen to Spot and O-R3 and stay safe!