Singapore Gradually Replacing Manpower With Robotic Technologies, From Construction Sites to Libraries

After struggling to find employees during the pandemic, companies in Singapore are increasingly turning to deploying robots to help carry out a range of tasks, from surveying construction sites to scanning bookshelves in a library.

The city-state relies on foreign workers, but their number fell by 235.700 between December 2019 and September 2021, according to the Ministry of Manpower, which notes that COVID-19 restrictions have accelerated the “pace of technology adoption and automation” by companies.

At a construction site in Singapore, a four-legged robot called Spot, built by US firm Boston Dynamics, scans bits of mud and gravel to check work progress, with data back in the control room of Gamon Construction.

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

“Replacing the need for on-site workforce with independent solutions is gaining real momentum,” said O’Connell, who believes the industry’s labor shortage has been made worse by the pandemic.

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 need to read call numbers one by one on the shelf, and this reduces red tape and labor-intensive aspects,” said Li Yi Fuang, assistant director at the National Library Board.

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

The robots are also used in customer-facing tasks, with more than 30 metro stations set up to have the robots make coffee for passengers.

Keith Tan, CEO of Crown Digital, which created the barista robot, said it’s helping solve the “biggest weakness” in food and beverage – finding employees – while creating well-paying jobs to help automate the sector.
However, some people trying the service still crave human interaction.

“We always wanted to have some kind of human touch,” said one of the passengers, Ashish Kumar, while sipping a robotic drink.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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