Robotics in Singapore

Singapore is leading the way when it comes to autonomous robots.

The latest example is the launch of Robot-As-A-Service (RaaS) in the city-state. The OR-3, developed by OTSAW Digital, will support security guards with tasks such as patrolling areas and sending real-time surveillance information back to managers.

The 1.6-metre-high robots are equipped with a comprehensive supply of security tools. These include laser scanners, multiple cameras for 360-degree vision, GPS, and sensors to identify suspicious packages. There’s also a drone which can be launched to track people who try to run away.

Why now’s time for robotics

According to Ling Ting Ming, OTSAW’s chief executive, security companies “want to use technology to replace labour, which is becoming more and more challenging [to find] in Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore.”

The robots are ideal for Singapore’s unforgiving climate, where high humidity and tropical temperatures are the norm. Naturally, there are cost savings. It reportedly costs S$7,500 for a month’s hire, with 24/7 availability (apart from when the robot needs charging). And of course, unlike their human colleagues, they won’t need breaks, annual leave or suffer peaks and troughs in performance throughout the day.

Robotics in healthcare

This isn’t the first time Singapore has been in the headlines for its robotics innovations. The National University of Singapore is seen as a pioneer of healthcare robotics. “Singapore currently stands high among the countries with leading research institutions for bio-inspired research,” says Dr Raye Yeow, head of the NUS Evolution Innovation Laboratory and assistant professor at the NUS Department of Biomedical Engineering.

Its medical team have been developing new solutions in three major areas. Soft surgical robotics (reducing tissue damage during surgery), soft rehabilitation robotics (wearable system to help stroke victims), and wearable sensors (so healthcare workers can capture information remotely). Following clinical trials, it’s expected that private companies will invest in helping the products get to market.

Robotics in hotels

Automation is already under way in many Singapore hotels, adding a strong sense of the futuristic. At M Social Hotel, guests are greeted by AURA, a de facto member of staff who also happens to be a robotic butler. Using Wi-Fi and 3D cameras, AURA performs routine-but-essential tasks such as providing fresh towels and delivering room service to guests. Of course, in hospitality customer service is crucial. That’s why “AURA has been programmed with its own personality, displaying traits of trustworthiness, politeness and dependability.”

Industry growth

Worldwide spending on robotics is expected to double between 2016 and 2020, from $91.5 billion to $188 billion. Manufacturing is the industry with the largest take-up, followed by resource industries, consumer, and healthcare. APAC will account for more than two-thirds of the spending, identified by IDC as the fastest-growing region.

The Singaporean government has already pledged more than $450 million towards its National Robotics Programme. Designed to help drive transformation and solve industry challenges, it’s a clear statement of intent from ministers at the top of government. This level of innovation will of course require the next-generation infrastructure to support its growth.

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