Robots deliver groceries and parcels to Punggol residents in one-year trial

SINGAPORE - About 700 households in Punggol will be able to use robot "couriers" to deliver their shopping under a new trial involving autonomous robots.

The one-year trial, which aims to ease the delivery manpower crunch and test the usability of such robots, will see two robot couriers delivering parcels and groceries for free to the lift lobbies of seven Waterway Woodcress Housing Board blocks.

Consumers choose when they want their items delivered, instead of having to adhere to a fixed delivery schedule. 

The trial is led by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), in partnership with HDB, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and the Urban Redevelopment Authority, as well as logistics service provider CM Logistics, supermarket chain FairPrice and technology provider Otsaw.

Speaking at the launch of the trial on Thursday (March 11), Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary noted that the logistics sector is very labour-intensive, with the problem exacerbated by the growth of e-commerce, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said the use of the robot "couriers" would hopefully reduce the manpower crunch.

He said: "The use of the autonomous mobile robot, such as this trial, hopefully can give a better customer experience. It can potentially generate new business models, and hopefully it will mean that we can scale up without being dependent on manpower as a limiting step."

He added that Punggol was chosen as a test bed because of its relatively young demographic. The infrastructure of the estate also allows for the robots to move around smoothly, such as via pathways and ramps.

Little effort is needed on the part of the consumer when opting for robot delivery.

After buying groceries from FairPrice's outlet at at Punggol Oasis Terraces, all the consumer has to do is drop off the items at the supermarket's concierge and then - either through informing the staff or via a mobile app - arrange to have the "courier" deliver the goods to his block at a specified time. 

The robots are for hire from 10am to 7pm on weekdays, and 10am to 2pm on Saturdays. They are not for hire on Sunday and public holidays.

Those who buy goods online will use the same app to indicate their preferred mode of delivery once the items arrive at the dispatch hub.

Consumers will be notified through the app when the robot is en route and upon its arrival at the destination.

Aside from groceries, other items such as medicines could also be delivered by the robot.

A QR code means only an authorised person will be able to retrieve the goods from the robot, which will wait for about 10 minutes before making its way back to the dispatch hub.


Consumers will be notified through the app when the robot is en route and upon its arrival at the destination. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

The trial will not only pave the way for the wider use of robots for on-demand deliveries. It will also allow for an assessment of the technologies required in artificial intelligence for navigation, obstacle detection and avoidance as well as the infrastructure needed such as communication systems and road networks. Feasible business models for commercial viability will be studied.

The two Otsaw robots, each weighing 80kg, have passed LTA's safety assessment for the supervised use of autonomous vehicles on public paths.

The robot's speed is capped at walking speeds of about 5kmh, and each robot will be accompanied by a safety officer during the trial.

Punggol resident Christine Chong, 53, who picked up her groceries from the robot on Thursday, found it convenient.

Ms Chong, who visits the supermarket at least once a week, said: "Usually, I cannot buy all the heavy stuff together because my muscle strength is quite weak, so I have to make multiple trips to the supermarket. I can let the robot deliver all my heavy stuff and I don't have to walk so far to collect it."