Singapore uses robots to supplement the labor force of the service industry

Rapid advances in the field of artificial intelligence have worried many people in Europe and the United States, and scientists have warned that this could lead to massive unemployment. But in Singapore, companies in the service industry are increasingly finding that robots can solve their tight staff problems – Singapore's restrictions on foreign workers' employment make it difficult for many companies to recruit employees.

Under the government's initiative to help companies survive the tight supply of labor, from the hotel to the hospital, robots have appeared in various institutions.

Louis Tan, chief operating officer of Singapore's Mount Elizabeth Novena, said: “The Singapore government is restricting foreign workers – even if it is skilled workers. It turns out that technology is one of the solutions.”

The hospital used IBM's "Watson" technology to introduce robotic "nurses" to monitor key signs of patients in intensive care units. Elizabeth Novena Hospital is a private medical service operated by Parkway Pantai.

Artificial intelligence technology combines information such as blood pressure and heart rate, and uses predictive algorithms to calculate the risk of worsening the patient's condition.

Louis Tan said: "In the past, this required human integration and interpretation. Now we use data analytics to help interpret."

He added that the pilot program launched this year made patients safer.

He said: "This does not mean that nurses have nothing to do. It simply means that they have an assistant who improves the efficiency and safety of their care."

At Chilli Padi Nonya, the robot waiter who shuttles between the tables picks up the dirty dishes and can also ask in a crisp voice: "Can you help me clean up the table?" The restaurant is located at the National University of Singapore. Malay and Chinese dishes are served near NaTIonal University of Singapore.

This kind of robot can't pick up the cup and the dish by itself. The customers put the used utensils on the tray and then took them back to the kitchen by the robot.

Restaurant manager Kannan Thangaraj said: “It is very difficult to recruit people from overseas in Singapore, so using robots is very helpful. Customers are repeat customers because of robots. They like to see robots.”

So far, only a few restaurants are experimenting with robots. Cost is an obstacle: Unitech Mechatronics, a Singapore-based robotic manufacturing company, is priced at S$47,000 ($34.34 million) for robots.

The company said the Singapore government provides nearly 70% cost subsidies for restaurants that use robots.

Also in Singapore, a research and development center at MasterCard designed the first payment application for the SoftBank RoboTIcs humanoid robot Pepper.

Asia's Pizza Hut store is expected to try Pepper's orders for some customers and process bank card payments this year. The goal is to free the waiter and deal with more complex interactions with customers.

Singapore announced in this year's budget that it plans to spend more than S$450 million over the next three years to support enterprise-equipped robots, with a focus on providing SMEs with affordable robots.

But this kind of innovation is not universally popular; in a restaurant in Singapore that uses robots to pick up dishes, an employee beats the robot.

Although the global use of industrial robots is already in use, the InternaTIonal FederaTIon of Robotics survey shows that industrial robots sold 248,000 units in 2015 – but service robots sold much less.

In 2014, sales of service robots rose to approximately 24,000 units, compared to less than 22,000 units in 2013.

Analysts expect sales of service industry robots to soar globally as technology advances enable robots to perform more complex tasks and work in more unpredictable environments.

In Japan, where robots are widely used in manufacturing, the government has introduced measures to promote the use of robots in service industries, including healthcare and home care.

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