Singapore’s robotic workforce fills workforce gap


© Reuters. Robotic barista “Ella” designed by Crown Digital makes coffee automatically after receiving an order in Singapore on April 26, 2022. REUTERS/Travis Teo


(This 30 May report corrects paragraph 6 to clarify the introduction of the robot in a public library rather than through the National Library Board of Singapore network)

Travis Theo

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – After struggling to find employees during the pandemic, businesses in Singapore have increasingly turned to deploying robots to help with a range of tasks, from surveying construction sites to scanning library shelves.

The city-state relied on foreign workers, but their numbers fell by 235,700 between December 2019 and September 2021, according to the Ministry of Manpower, noting how COVID-19 restrictions have accelerated companies’ “surge in technology adoption and automation. pace”.

On a construction site in Singapore, a quadruped robot called Spot, made by Boston Dynamics, scans sections of mud and gravel to check the progress of work and feeds the data back to the control room of construction company Gammon.

Gammon’s general manager, Michael O’Connell, said that using Spot requires only one human employee, rather than the two previously required to do the work manually.

“Replacing the need for on-site human labor with autonomous solutions is gaining real traction,” said O’Connell, who believes industry labor shortages exacerbated by the pandemic will continue.

Meanwhile, the National Library Board of Singapore has introduced two shelf-reading robots in one of its public libraries that can scan labels on 100,000 books a day, about 30 percent of its collection.

“The staff does not need to read the call numbers on the shelves one by one, which reduces the routine and labor-intensive aspects,” said Lee Yee Fuang, assistant curator of the National Library Board.

According to a 2021 report by the International Federation of Robotics, Singapore has installed 605 robots per 10,000 employees in manufacturing, the second-highest number globally, after South Korea with 932.

Robots are also being used for customer-facing tasks, and more than 30 subway stations will be equipped with robots to make coffee for commuters.

Keith Tan, CEO of Crown Digital, which created the barista robot, said it’s helping solve the food and beverage industry’s “biggest pain point” — finding employees — while also creating high-paying jobs to help automate the industry.

However, some who try the service are still eager to interact with people.

“We always wanted something human,” says commuter Ashish Kumar, sipping a robot-brewed drink.

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