Safety benchmarks to allow robots to deliver packages in S'pore being drawn up

Minister of State Tan Kiat How (seated) remotely operating a delivery robot at Continental Automotive Singapore's office. PHOTO: CONTINENTAL AUTOMOTIVE SINGAPORE

SINGAPORE - The idea of robots travelling on Singapore's roads to deliver food and packages is now another step closer to reality.

A set of safety criteria for the deployment of autonomous mobile robots in outdoor urban environments will be developed by technology company Continental Automotive Singapore and German company TUV SUD.

The global testing and certification giant has a $100 million regional hub at the International Business Park in Jurong.

The benchmarks seek to minimise the chances of an accident - such as a collision between a robot and a person or vehicle - occurring when such autonomous devices are making deliveries.

The criteria may eventually be adopted in Singapore as safety standards, which would be one of the first in the world for the use of autonomous mobile robots in cities.

A memorandum of understanding (MOU) on the partnership was inked at Continental's office in Boon Keng Road on Thursday (May 12).

Under the MOU, the companies will develop the safety criteria using feedback from trials of Continental's autonomous robots here.

These include a 10-month pilot which ended last month, where the robots delivered food from Dignity Kitchen to Continental's office.

A social enterprise foodcourt and hawker training school for the differently abled, Dignity Kitchen is also located in Boon Keng Road.

Past projects by Continental include a similar food delivery service for students at Nanyang Technological University, which ended last year, and one with the Infocomm Media Development Authority which used a 5G network here to run the robots. That project ended in March.

In a joint statement, Continental and TUV SUD said one of the first scenarios to be assessed is teleoperation, or the remote manual control of a robot.

Continental's robots are fully automated but can be taken over by a human operator if required, such as when a robot encounters an obstacle in its delivery route.

In cases where the operator is remotely controlling the robot, factors such as low latency - having little or no lag time - are essential.

The two organisations will also consider the robustness of cyber-security features, to prevent hackers from seizing control of the robot, as well as the robot's adaptability when encountering low-visibility conditions such as heavy rain.

An employee working at Dignity Kitchen, a social enterprise foodcourt and hawker training school for the differently abled. PHOTO: ST FILE

But the set of benchmarks developed should not be so strict such that it stifles innovation, said TUV SUD Asean chief executive Richard Hong.

"We don't want the standards to be so high that no autonomous mobile robot can meet them - then there's no point (to have them)," he said.

Mr Tan Kiat How, Minister of State for National Development, and Communications and Information, said the safe use of autonomous mobile robots is important as the country harnesses technological innovations to meet future mobility needs.

"I hope that the outcomes of this collaboration can be scaled to other cities around the world to support their smart city developments," he added.

The MOU signing comes after Grab's announcement last month about its involvement in a trial which will see a robot deliver food at Sentosa's Siloso Beach.

Grab said the pilot, which is a collaboration between the firm and technology company NCS, will start this month.

Trials involving the delivery of food and other items by robots have taken place in several cities across the world such as Helsinki in Finland and Paris in France.

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