© Reuters. A robotic barista “Ella” designed by Crown Digital makes coffee autonomously after receiving an order on April 26, 2022 in Singapore. Photograph: Travis Tew/Reuters
by Travis Teo
SINGAPORE (Reuters) – After struggling to find employees during the pandemic, businesses in Singapore are increasingly turning to using robots to complete a range of tasks from surveying construction sites to scanning library bookshelves.
The city-state relies on foreign workers, but their numbers fell by 235.700 between December 2019 and September 2021, according to the Labor Department, which notes that the containment of COVID-19 has “accelerated the pace of technology adoption and automation” by businesses.
At a construction site in Singapore, a four-legged robot called Spot, created by US company Boston Dynamics, scans bits of mud and gravel to check work progress, sending the data back to the control room of Gamon Construction Company.
Gammon’s general manager Michael O’Connell said that using Spot now only requires one human worker, instead of the two previously required for manual labor.
“Replacing on-site labor needs with standalone solutions is gaining momentum,” said O’Connell, who believes the industry’s labor shortage, exacerbated by the pandemic, will continue.
Meanwhile, the National Library of Singapore has introduced two shelf-reading robots that can scan labels on 100,000 books, or about 30 percent of its collection, daily.
“Staff do not have to read call numbers one by one on the shelf, and this reduces red tape and labor-intensive aspects,” said Li Yi Fuang, deputy director of the National Library Board.
According to the 2021 report by the International Federation of Robotics, Singapore has 605 installed robots per 10,000 employees in the manufacturing industry, the second highest number in the world after South Korea’s 932.
The robots are also used in customer-centric tasks, with more than 30 subway stations said to have robots making coffee for passengers.
Keith Tan, CEO of Crown Digital, which developed the barista bot, said it helps solve the food and beverage industry’s “biggest weakness” – finding employees – while creating high-paying jobs to do so to automate the sector.
However, some people who have tried the service still crave human interaction.
“We always wanted to have some kind of human touch,” said traveler Ashish Kumar, sipping a fermented beverage with a robot.