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From baristas to inspectors: Singapore’s robotic workforce closes working holes

SINGAPORE, May 30 (Reuters) – (This May 30 story corrects section 6 to clarify robots introduced in one public library, not across Singapore’s National Library Board network)

After struggling to find employees during the pandemic, companies in Singapore have increasingly turned to distributing robots to help perform a variety of tasks, from mapping construction sites to scanning library bookshelves.

The city state is dependent on foreign workers, but the number fell by 235,700 between December 2019 and September 2021, according to the Ministry of Labor, which notes how COVID-19 curbs have increased the “pace of technology adoption and automation” of companies.

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At a construction site in Singapore, a four-legged robot called “Spot”, built by the American company Boston Dynamics, scans parts of mud and gravel to check the progress, with data returned to the construction company Gammon’s control room.

Gammon’s general manager, Michael O’Connell, said the use of Spot required only one human employee instead of the two previously needed to do the job manually.

“Replacing the need for on-site labor with autonomous solutions is making a real impact,” said O’Connell, who believes labor shortages in the industry exacerbated by the pandemic are here to stay.

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

“Staff do not have to read the telephone numbers one by one on the shelf, and this reduces the routine and labor-intensive aspects,” said Lee Yee Fuang, assistant director at the National Library Board.

Singapore has 605 robots installed per 10,000 employees in the manufacturing industry, the second highest number globally, after South Korea’s 932, according to a 2021 report from the International Federation of Robotics.

Robots are also used for customer-facing tasks, with more than 30 subway stations set to have robots that make coffee for commuters.

Keith Tan, CEO of Crown Digital, which created the barista robot, said it helped solve the “biggest pain” in food and beverage – finding employees – while creating well-paid jobs to help automate the sector .

However, some who tried the service longed for human interaction.

“We always want a kind of human touch,” said commuter Ashish Kumar, sipping a robotic drink.

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Edited by Ed Davies and Bradley Perrett

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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