Meet Scrub 50, the robot cleaner

Robot cleaners could soon hit the floors of commercial buildings in Singapore to ease the burden on their human counterparts.

Scrub 50, touted as Singapore's first fully autonomous cleaning robot, has been developed jointly by property developer JTC, WIS Holdings and Gaussian Robotics and was unveiled at the JTC CleanTech One building in Jurong Innovation District yesterday.

The three firms hope the 1.1m-tall robot will provide a solution to the labour crunch in the cleaning industry caused by an ageing workforce.

Gaussian Robotics director Aloysius Chong said: "It has sensors to detect which part of the building it's at, it sends reports after it finishes cleaning a particular area and there's no danger of it bumping into people or objects because it's equipped with laser detectors, cameras and sensors. In the future we may get it to talk and say 'Excuse me'."

Mr Kelvin Lee, chief commercial officer of WIS Holdings, which provides services such as cleaning and landscaping, pointed out that it is harder to hire young and able-bodied locals as cleaners today, compared with 40 years ago. "The demographics of Singapore have been changing and we now have an ageing batch of cleaning staff who will soon retire. We also have a harder time hiring young workers," he said.

He also cited increased client expectations as a reason for developing Scrub 50, which is able to clean a given area thoroughly and far more quickly than the average cleaner.

(From left) Gaussian Robotics director Aloysius Chong, JTC building management division director Jason Foo and WIS chief commercial officer Kelvin Lee with robot Scrub 50.
(From left) Gaussian Robotics director Aloysius Chong, JTC building management division director Jason Foo and WIS chief commercial officer Kelvin Lee with robot Scrub 50. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

For example, daily scrubbing of 5,000 sq m over a one-month period would require a cleaner to put in 300 hours of work, but the robot takes 130 hours, its developers claim.

Scrub 50 can also sense when its battery charge or clean water supply is low. Without human intervention, it can direct itself to its docking station, where it charges itself, rinses its tanks and refills its water supply.

It can squeeze into narrow spaces for more thorough cleaning, which larger robots now in use are not able to do. The smart robot can even communicate with lifts to navigate different levels of a building on its own.

Research and development efforts for the robot were started in 2016 and up to $500,000 could be spent by JTC on the development and testing of the prototype.

Scrub 50 is being tested at CleanTech One, and JTC and its partners hope to get it up and running in other buildings later this year.

JTC hopes the robot, which requires only two hours of checks by cleaning staff each month, will be able to free up operations and cleaning staff to focus on higher-value duties such as supervision.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 06, 2018, with the headline 'Meet Scrub 50, the robot cleaner'. Print Edition | Subscribe