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First pair of robot cleaners report for work at National Gallery, Jewel Changi Airport

23 Apr 2019

Straits Times, 23 Apr 2019, First pair of robot cleaners report for work at National Gallery, Jewel Changi Airport
 
A pair of similar-looking robots will start work today - scrubbing floors at the National Gallery Singapore and collecting garbage at the newly opened Jewel Changi Airport.
 
Created by local manufacturer LionsBot International, these are the first two of its 100 fully autonomous cleaning robots to be rolled out by the end of the year, making it a pioneer in mass producing such machines here as more firms look into automating cleaning.
 
"We are looking to roll out about eight robots in May, and reach full production in June," said Mr Dylan Ng, who co-founded LionsBot with his wife Michelle Seow and Assistant Professor Mohan Rajesh Elara from the Singapore University of Technology and Design.
 
The company already has an order for 100 robots to be rented out to two local cleaning contractors, Chye Thiam Maintenance and Absolute Maintenance Services.
 
It aims to complete designing of 16 models this year, and has spent about $2 million in creating the machines. Models to vacuum and mop floors will also go live next month.
 
The robot in Jewel is strong enough to pull a 1,000-litre bin along a pre-mapped route, stopping for tenants to dump their trash.
 
"Typically, cleaners elsewhere push a 660-litre bin as they go around collecting trash. It's very tedious, laborious and may be slightly unsightly," said Mr Ng.
 
Meanwhile, the robot at the National Gallery is able to scrub the floors daily, said Ms Seow, adding that brushes suitable for the conserved tiles were installed in the machine.
 
For the couple, who also own cleaning equipment and chemicals supplier SuperSteam Asia Pacific, the robots could mean a new engine of growth.
 
"There used to be about 50,000 new entrants to the workforce each year but the birth rate has dropped and we are now looking at 20,000 or so new workers annually. They are better qualified and will not necessarily choose cleaning as a career," said Mr Ng. "The cleaning industry will be very badly hit, but this also represents an opportunity for the sector to reinvent itself."
 
MORE FIRMS AUTOMATING CLEANING

Mr Edy Tan, chief executive officer of Chye Thiam Maintenance, envisions deploying cleaning robots at locations such as the Esplanade and Resorts World Sentosa.
 
He expects such robots can ease up to 30 per cent of a cleaner's workload, while the humans upgrade.
 
"We plan to skill up our staff to operate the robots," said Mr Tan. "It allows them to be better paid."
 
Absolute Maintenance Services CEO Ken Lee said that cleaning robots enable staff to multitask by overseeing the mechanised cleaning of several areas at once - allowing them to become supervisors.
 
LionsBot is not the only company here working to automate cleaning.
 
Mr Felix Swee, executive director of Sun City Maintenance, said his firm bought a cleaning robot that has been deployed in Parkway Parade since late last year, to mop the mall's open spaces after hours. He is now sourcing for robots, including smaller ones, to deploy at carparks and office buildings.
 
Property developer JTC Corporation is also testing its robot cleaner Scrub 50 at two places - CleanTech One in Jalan Bahar and The JTC Summit in Jurong - with its trial to end in June.
 
Mr Jason Foo, its building management division director, said that apart from scrubbing, the robot can also dust and wet-mop areas.
 
He added: "JTC will consider scaling up the solution where appropriate".
 
JTC is also working with artificial intelligence analytics service H3 Zoom.AI to automate operations such as building facade inspections.