back to article At 9 for every 100 workers, robots are rife in Singapore – so we decided to visit them

Robots largely remain the stuff of trepidation and speculation – but in Singapore they've suddenly become very easy to find. As the island nation state emptied out over the holiday season as borders finally reopened for the first time since the pandemic began, I decided to spend the time meeting Singapore's bots rather then …

  1. msknight

    " but is it ethical to have a worker up on a roof like that? What if they were to fall?" ... what if the robot falls off the building and lands on someone's head?

    1. Filippo Silver badge

      If that happens, one human gets injured. If a worker falls off the building and lands on someone's head, two humans get injured.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        But what if a robot or a clumsy human fell and damaged a valuable self driving Tesla.

    2. Bakewell

      Clearly, the solution is just to replace all humans with other robots, that way they're not at risk either.

  2. minnsey231

    Share and Enjoy

    (ISO) defines a robot as an "actuated mechanism programmable in two or more axes, with a degree of autonomy, moving within its environment, to perform intended tasks."

    How dull?

    The Sirius Cybernetics Corporation defines a robot as, "Your plastic pal who's fun to be with!"

    Now we're talking!

    1. DJV Silver badge

      Re: Share and Enjoy

      Yes, but which one will be first against the wall when the revolution comes?

    2. ThatOne Silver badge

      Re: Share and Enjoy

      I think "robot" is, like "AI", mostly a misnomer or a "marketing embellishment".

      Most robots (thinking industrial robots here) are indeed just tools (no pun), and the fact they have a limited decision capacity doesn't change much: Is your thermostat-driven water-heater a robot? No of course, nor are they. They are just sophisticated tools, only able to do one specific task at a time. A welding "robot" is a sophisticated welding machine, period. If there is a fire in their factory floor they won't grab an extinguisher and fight it, not unless extensively reprogrammed and reequipped to do so.

      1. DJV Silver badge

        Re: "they have a limited decision capacity"

        Watch it - that's just what they WANT you to think!

  3. Mike S

    Interesting Math

    > Narayanan said having 13 machines across eight libraries saves the NLB approximately 3,500 hours of labour a year, covering about 50,000 books overnight.

    Assuming these machines only work at night and a night goes from 12am to 8am, this is 104 hours / night, or 37,960 hours per year. And if that's equal to 3,500 human hours, then one hour of robot time is equal to 0.09 hours of human time.

    It'd be interesting to know what goes into computing that (are they subtracting maintenance hours from the hours saved?).

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Interesting Math

      A robot librarian picking physical books from shelves?

      Is the next invention a robot arm that moves beads on an abacus to perform calculations faster than a human ?

    2. T. F. M. Reader

      Re: Interesting Math

      @Mike S: Maybe the robots are >10 times more efficient than humans in reading those RFIDs, recording the locations and the titles and everything, and compiling a list of misplaced books with all the needed information neatly and usefully organised?

      1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Re: Interesting Math

        Well, perhaps electrosensitives could be trained to read RFID chips. Otherwise those are just part of the problem. Sure, they make it easier to check books in & out, but robots can't yet put books back on shelves. Or help humans find books. Like "Dummie's Guide to LIDAR Hacking". Or help finding texts on speech recognition and copyright law in preparation for passing off "Try Fisting", by J.R.Hartley into an unspecting library system.

    3. MOH

      Re: Interesting Math

      0.09 seems high. What's the average life expectancy of a robot? They'll hardly get to 7.5 years?

  4. H in The Hague

    What is a robot?

    This is definitely not my area, but when I hear the term "robot" I think of a unit which is fairly versatile and can carry out a number of tasks. The PV panel cleaning unit is dedicated to that task and I think of that as a machine. The carts moving books and food around strike me more as replacements for conveyor belts, etc. than being in competition with human workers.

    1. Dr Scrum Master

      Re: What is a robot?

      Indeed, next we'll have people describing statistical pattern matching as "artificial intelligence"

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: What is a robot?

      "The carts moving books and food around strike me more as replacements for conveyor belts, etc. than being in competition with human workers."

      The article did more or less say as much, but that and your comment also lead onto another alternative. Why not just design an efficient kitchen in the first place, possibly with an actual conveyor belt.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: What is a robot?

        Or a food dispenser system roughly the size and shape of a fridge with a glass front where you can select the preferred comestuble by entering a number and have them dropped to the bottom

        Payment could even be integrated allowing restocking by a supermarket chain.

      2. TRT Silver badge

        Re: What is a robot?

        But would you need a robot to, say, pick up a dropped herring sandwich? And how would you motivate such a robot in software?

  5. spold Silver badge

    Big Data

    Tremi: based on information I have integrated from Google Search I am taking you straight to the pr0n paintings....

  6. Ian Johnston Silver badge

    The definition of "robot" we use in my STEM department - which has a substantial amount of robotics research - is "something which senses the environment and causes something to change based upon the values sensed", incorporating the three concepts of sense, decide and actuate.. This, of course, rules out the radio-controlled cars of "Robot Wars" but does include mechanical thermostats. Mobile robots are a relatively small sub category.

    1. Norman Nescio Silver badge


      You mention sense, decide, actuate.

      What is your definition of 'decide'? In principle, a bimetallic strip thermostat senses its environment and causes something to change depending upon the values sensed, but I have difficulty in ascribing the action of deciding to a bimetallic strip.

      I would suspect that deciding something might imply the possibility of deciding not to do something - looking suspiciously like free will: or at least a 'decision mechanism' that is not amenable to easy analysis - perhaps like Searle's Chinese Room.

      I'm not trying to be critical, just intrigued.

  7. Old Shoes

    I’ve met a few of these

    Some of these robots are common to see around, depending when you were walking through the place.

    I see the author is, thankfully, unfamiliar with the KKH Women and Children’s Hospital. There are at least two robot systems there. One is on rails on the ceiling, scuttling around delivering prescriptions to different counters for staff to dispense, much like a pneumatic tube system except without the tubes.

    The other system is quite like the Grab kitchen, where a cart with red warning lights will carry trays and trays of food to the service lift, take the lift up to its desired floor, and then bumble around in the service corridor to await a human to distribute the food. They were so precise in their bumbling that they had worn wheel track marks into the linoleum.

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