Robots that clean floors, disinfect lift panels among technologies being tested at Tampines market and food centre

Several cleaning robots are being test-bedded at Tampines Round Market and Food Centre. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

SINGAPORE, Sep 19, 2020, ST. Cleaning floors, monitoring pests and other laborious tasks in maintaining facilities such as food centres could soon be done by robots, The Straits Times reported.

Several robots, which perform tasks such as cleaning floors, inspect false ceilings, disinfect lift panels and map the density of mosquitoes in the surroundings, are being test-bedded at Tampines Round Market and Food Centre and could be rolled out to other food centres in future.

The robots are intended to relieve cleaners and workers of strenuous, repetitive tasks, and to free them up to fulfil other higher-value roles which could see them taking on new skills such as handling the robots, said Tampines Town Council.

MPs from Tampines GRC – Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli,Senior Minister of State for Health Koh Poh Koon, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Transport Baey Yam Keng and town council chairman Cheng Li Hui – were at the centre in Tampines Street 11 to see the robots in action on Saturday (Sept 19).

“Robotics is a very important part of how we are going to transform the economy,” Mr Masagos told the media.

“This is both important for the now, so that we are able to be more productive, but also for the future, when in Singapore particularly, manpower is going to be a very big challenge 10, 15 years down the line.

“(It’s) better to be ready now, produce these technologies, then deploy them, learn from them,” he added.

The maintenance robots are developed by engineers from the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) and the project is funded by the National Robotics Programme.

Five robots – two for floor-cleaning, one for false ceiling inspection, one for lift disinfection panel, and a mosquito-density mapping robot – will be deployed at the market and its surrounding area.

The false ceiling inspection robot will also be used to chase away pigeons and mynahs by emitting sound frequencies which target these birds.

Around 20 full-time engineers from the university, alongside a mix of undergraduate and post-graduate students, are working on the project, which includes five other robots for cleaning and facility management being developed and that could be test-bedded in Tampines as well.

Following the pilot at the market, the technologies could be rolled out to other food centres in the constituency, as well as HDB blocks, the town council said.

These robots took between two and five months of development before they were ready for testing, said SUTD’s Assistant Professor Mohan Rajesh Elara.

Dr Mohan explained that the robots are being deployed in the Tampines market for real-life testing and “final fine-tuning”.

The university is also in talks with manufacturers to identify how the products can be commercialised, he added.

The project, which is also supported by the National Environment Agency, could see the robots being rolled out at other food centres in Singapore, Dr Mohan said.

A spokesman for Tampines Town Council said that 14 cleaners in the precinct will be part of the pilot and undergo about one to two weeks of training to use these robots.

Utilising these robots does not mean that workers are cut. It provides instead upskilling opportunities for workers, he added, noting that it also addresses manpower shortages.

With robots taking over the routine jobs, cleaners could focus on the sanitising roles, which are difficult for the equipment to handle.

Commenting on this, Mr Masagos emphasised the importance of collaboration between humans and technology.

“Robots will never take over our jobs… We will find use for the robots where it is either dangerous for our workers to go, or (where) it is not a productive way of deploying our labour, at the same time, creating new opportunities.”

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