'Swiss army knife' cleaning robot needed

Engineer Chiew Yee Kin says the use of robots will be more widespread as perceptions towards them change over time.
Engineer Chiew Yee Kin says the use of robots will be more widespread as perceptions towards them change over time.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Engineer Chiew Yee Kin frequently visits dirty and dangerous places so that others don't have to do the same. The 34-year-old has designed and built machines for several uses, from surveillance drones to industrial robots.

His work for home-grown firm Hope Technik involves extensive on-site groundwork, as engineers gather data about the environment which the robot will function in and the tasks it has to do.

"Robots have the potential to replace humans in many dull, dirty and dangerous jobs," says Mr Chiew, who has been with Hope Technik for four years.

He is now part of a team working to design a robot that can clean the exterior walls of HDB blocks.

"It might seem simple but there are many types of wall surfaces, such as sharp edges, overhangs and air-conditioner ledges," says Mr Chiew. "We need a 'Swiss army knife' robot which is able to deal with all of them."

He adds: "We break the problem down into small parts... Each engineer will have his own task, then we put everything together for testing." One of the fastest-growing robotics segments here is unmanned vehicles. Hope Technik has made drones for military and civilian uses, including monitoring oil spills and surveillance.

Mr Chiew believes the use of robots will be more widespread with time as perceptions towards them change. "People are still worried about safety, about being watched by Big Brother, and that the system can be hacked into," he says.

"It's impossible to guarantee that robots will work with 100 per cent success, but that's what we're trying to improve on day by day.

"In the past, people thought cars shouldn't replace horses... Only time will change perceptions."

Chia Yan Min

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2015, with the headline ''Swiss army knife' cleaning robot needed'. Print Edition | Subscribe