SINGAPORE: Singapore is trialling the use of autonomous robots to make deliveries in Punggol, paving the way for wider use of robot "couriers" for on-demand delivery services.
The one-year trial, which began in February, will see two robots by local technology company OTSAW deliver parcels and groceries to the lift lobbies of seven Housing and Development Board (HDB) blocks - involving about 700 households - at Waterway Woodcress.
Customers can choose when they want their items delivered instead of having to follow a fixed delivery schedule, allowing more convenience and faster deliveries, said the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) on Thursday (Mar 11).
"For instance, after buying groceries such as rice or diapers at a supermarket, a consumer can drop off the purchases at a concierge counter to continue shopping or dining and have them delivered to their HDB block at a time the consumer chooses," said IMDA.
"Other items that could be delivered through these robot couriers include perishables such as food or flowers, and even controlled items such as medicine."
The trial will assess artificial intelligence technologies for autonomous navigation, obstacle detection and avoidance; communications systems and road networks; and business models for commercial viability, said IMDA.
The authority is partnering HDB, the Land Transport Authority (LTA), Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), local logistics service provider CM Logistics, supermarket chain NTUC FairPrice and technology company OTSAW in the trial.
HOW IT WORKS
Customers getting parcels delivered can select the delivery date when they make their orders online. CM Logistics will then deliver the items to the dispatch hub and schedule the delivery time with the customer.
For groceries, customers at NTUC FairPrice can bring their groceries to the dispatch hub to schedule the delivery time.
On delivery day, the robot will make its way to the collection point of the customer's HDB block at the scheduled time.
Customers will be notified through a mobile app when the robot is en route to its destination, and again when the robot has arrived.
Customers can collect their delivery from the robot using the provided QR code or one-time password. This ensures that only authorised people will be able to access to the assigned compartment in the robot and its contents, said IMDA.
"Public safety is paramount," said IMDA in announcing the trial. It said both robots in the trial have passed LTA's safety assessment for the supervised use of autonomous vehicles on public paths.
Each robot weighs 80kg unloaded and is capped at "walking speeds" of about 5kmh, said IMDA. Each robot is also accompanied by a safety officer during the trial period.
OTSAW's robot deployed in the trial, known as the Camello, is equipped with 3D LIDAR sensors, a camera, sonar, two weatherproof compartments with a total capacity of 100L and independent four-wheel drive with differential steering, according to a graphic provided by IMDA.
With the growth of e-commerce, consumers have grown accustomed to expecting home deliveries in increasingly shorter periods of time, said IMDA's deputy chief executive Mr Kiren Kumar.
He added: "Autonomous delivery robots can play an important role in augmenting existing delivery infrastructure to enhance the consumer experience and drive productivity gains."
Efforts like these will enable Singapore to become "more liveable, sustainable and connected", said URA's group director for R&D Mr Chiu Wen Tung
"Employing technology to explore alternate and innovative modes of delivery is one way Singapore builds a world-class urban logistics system that also enhances land and labour productivity," he said.
Industry partners also expressed their support for the public-private trial.
"With the exploding demand in e-commerce deliveries, coupled with concerns on environmental impact and a constant challenge with commercial sustainability, we believe utilising the (autonomous robots) is the way forward towards a smart delivery solution in the future," said CM Logistics CEO Mr Chiam Kok Yaw.
At the launch of the trial on Thursday, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary said: "We have chosen this location, I think partly because we have a demographic group here in Punggol that's likely to use these types of online ordering – a bit more familiar with tech.
"But there is an aspect about how the estate was designed, and you know, we have clear pathways and ramps – not something that we had to retrofit because this is a new estate, very updated regulations that were in place at that time. So I think it's a combination of those factors."
The proximity of the supermarket and logistics hub also played a role in the decision, he added.
Dr Puthucheary noted that "you need many things to be just right" in order for this type of trial to work.
"Hopefully, we improve, we can bring this to other places where things are not quite so easy and set beforehand," he said.