Robots at Work
Robots are becoming our colleagues.
We know that they can lift heavy loads, make deliveries, organise warehouses, and perform the same precise action over and over to assist their human counterparts, taking the monotony out of manufacturing jobs.
But this is just the beginning — we are seeing the transformation of many industries where robots are becoming essential, even in the service industry.
In Singapore, the Smart Nation initiative is steadily bringing us closer to a future where the Internet of Things is ubiquitous, and artificial intelligence and robotics are part of the fabric of daily life.
Here is a rundown of three service and social robots already in action in Singapore.
1. Techi, the Roving Housekeeping Robot
Techi, a service robot made by Techmetics, could certainly give Rosie from The Jetsons a run for its money. In the Hanna-Barbera cartoon series, Rosie is the sleek robot maid that does household chores for the futuristic family.
Similarly, Techi cleans up after departing hotel guests at Park Avenue Rochester Hotel, delivering trolleys of duvets, pillow cases and towels to all 311 rooms.
The hotel is the first in Singapore to ‘employ’ two of these service robots to increase productivity and cope with manpower shortages.
As reported by The Straits Times, the hotel only has 23 of the 29 room attendants it needs; the presence of the two Techi robots has helped to reduce the hotel’s headcount shortage from six to three.
Developed by an American company and partly funded by the Singapore Tourism Board’s Business Improvement Fund, each Techi service robot comes with a cool S$100,000 price tag.
The fully autonomous robots roam around the hotel without assistance, aided by sensors that identify obstructions such as walls and hotel guests.
They may be pre-programmed from a tablet to perform routine tasks, such as delivering fresh linens every day. That toilet roll you need at three in the morning? It is on its way, with the tap of a button on a screen.
After the successful introduction of the robot pair to the hotel’s service crew in July, a third robot has since joined the team.
Techi #3—this one with eyes, upping its cute factor considerably—can deliver room service orders to guests.
2. Emma, the Acupoint Therapy Robot
Feeling sore from your last workout?
Emma to the rescue! Expert Manipulative Massage Automation is essentially a robotic arm which runs on proprietary software and uses acupoint therapy to relieve muscle strains and injuries.
Created by a startup, AiTreat, the robot is capable of highly articulated movements and possesses a customised, rotatable 3D-printed massage tip.
It even has a 3D-stereoscopic camera which allows it to ‘see’, aside from multiple sensors and diagnostic functions. Of course, several safety features have been built-in to work in tandem with advanced pressure sensors and ensure comfort and safety at all times.
According to Mr Albert Zhang, CEO of AiTreat, Emma is possibly the first such robot developed specifically for use by traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) physicians and sports therapists.
In fact, Mr Zhang drew on his own past experience as a licensed TCM physician in Singapore to flesh out Emma’s design and features, a Nanyang Technological University press release reported.
Emma is fully equipped to measure and analyse the stiffness of muscles and tendons as well as the progress of any one patient; such data may be uploaded to AiTreat’s propriety cloud-based intelligence platform for analysis and research purposes.
To date, the patient list has included some of Singapore’s national athletes, including national basketballer and Mediacorp actor Mr Chase Tan.
Emma is also part of the increasing wave of service bots that are designed to increase productivity and address manpower shortages in Singapore.
Sports therapy clinics are currently facing a shortage of trained therapists, while also contending with the need to consistently deliver high quality therapy.
Rather than replacing sports massage therapists, it is hoped that Emma will allow them to instead treat multiple patients at a time.
3. Nadine, the Robot Receptionist
When was the last time you had a conversation with a robot?
Meet friendly and intelligent Nadine, a social humanoid robot ‘receptionist’ developed by a team at the Institute for Media Innovation at Nanyang Technological University. ‘She’ has been designed specifically for human interaction—she possesses a personality, has moods and emotions, and looks you in the eye as she gives you a firm, no-nonsense handshake. She even recalls faces and conversations that she’s had before!
Professor Nadia Thalmann, Director of the Institute for Media Innovation, designed Nadine in her image, so to speak.
The robot is her doppelganger, and is powered by artificial intelligence software similar to Apple’s Siri.
Unlike robots that perform manual labour tasks or are part of the manufacturing floor, Nadine can be developed further to become a personal assistant or a social companion for the young and elderly alike—good news for Singapore’s rapidly ageing population.
Indeed, Professor Thalmann was quoted as saying that Nadine can even serve as a platform for healthcare services in future.
In the absence of hardware, Nadine may be turned into a low-cost virtual social companion instead, appearing on TVs or computer screens in homes or offices.
And who knows?
As robotics technology advances at a brisk pace, particularly in the development of silicon chips, sensors and computational capabilities, Nadine and her kind may become a mainstay of the home of tomorrow.