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Singapore Sends in the Delivery Robots

The island nation joins a steadily growing list of cities and jurisdictions that have begun to implement trials with sidewalk robots for urban logistics.

The trial to test the use of autonomous robot ‘couriers’ in a live environment is underway in Punggol, a residential district of Singapore. The one-year public-private trial is led by the state Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), in partnership with the Housing & Development Board (HDB), Land Transport Authority (LTA), Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), logistics service provider CM Logistics, supermarket chain NTUC FairPrice and technology provider, Otsaw.

The trial will see two Otsaw robots delivering parcels and groceries to the lift lobbies of seven HDB apartment blocks to assess:

  • technologies such as AI for autonomous navigation, obstacle detection and avoidance
  • infrastructure such as communications systems and road networks (including connectivity and slopes)
  • business models for commercial viability.

“Autonomous delivery robots can play an important role in augmenting existing delivery infrastructure to enhance the consumer experience and drive productivity gains. We look forward to working closely with our partners in this trial to test the technology, safety, business model and user experience,” said Kiren Kumar, deputy chief executive, IMDA.

Both autonomous robots have passed the LTA’s safety assessment for the supervised use of autonomous vehicles on public paths, the IMDA reports. The speed for each robot, which weighs 80kg (unloaded), is limited to 5km/h. Each robot will also be accompanied by a safety officer during the trial period.

“Employing technology to explore alternate and innovative modes of delivery is one way Singapore builds a world-class urban logistics system that also enhances land and labour productivity. This enables our city to become more liveable, sustainable and connected,” said Chiu Wen Tung, group director (research and development), URA.

Personal Comment:
When considering side-walk robots such as the present one, I believe there is a need for them to be designed to be liked and accepted. The reason why acceptance is important for small autonomous vehicles is that they will likely be very close up to pedestrians and other sidewalk users, such as cyclists. Therefore, I am extra interested in knowing how these vehicles that are being tested in different places in the world interact with people. Interaction can be divided into implicit and explicit communication, which both play a role in likeability. Implicit communication could for example be how the vehicle moves and whether the vehicle takes for granted that people will move out of its way by adopting a late braking response. An example of explicit communication for small autonomous vehicles could be in the form of external attributes that convey a specific message such as ”I’m waiting for you” with the behavior of a light strip.

These are only some of the interesting challenges on the topic of small ADVs. I am excited to follow the progress of a number of other ADV trials from around the world. Here are some of them:

Amazon’s Scout    
Starship Technologies                   
Clean Motion’s Zbee
Postmate’s Serve               
Hugo Delivery’s Hugo

Written by Daban Rizgary,
RISE Mobility & Systems (Människa-autonomi)