The future is here with

6 June 2018
Singapore’s hotel landscape is transforming, thanks to the deployment of manpower-saving automation.

When it comes to tourism, Singapore is already famous for its top-ranked airport and world-class airline. Soon, it will be known for its high-tech hotels too - where friendly robots serve guests welcome drinks, collect laundry bags, and deliver room service orders.

In fact, that’s already happening. At M Social Singapore, a front-of-house robot named AURA sends towels and toiletries to guest rooms - freeing up hotel staff from mundane tasks and raising productivity.

Not only has this given M Social employees more time to focus on their guests, it has also made a difference for solo female patrons. Indeed, Lee Sul Bi, the hotel’s General Manager, notes: “Single female travellers are very receptive towards AURA, as she provides more privacy.”

The hospitality sector’s embracing of robotics is no accident - it is part of the Singapore government’s ambitious S$4.5 billion Industry Transformation Programme. Together, the Singapore Tourism Board and the Singapore Hotel Association’s Innovation Committee are working closely to drive the Smart Hotel Technology Roadmap, which incorporates mobile connectivity and robotics to accelerate the hotel industry’s growth.

The push to transform Singapore’s hospitality scene comes at a crucial point. With an ever-climbing increase in inbound tourism each year - the number of visitor arrivals rose 6.2 per cent to a record high of 17.4 million in 2017 - many new hotels, both big and boutique, have entered the Singapore market. This has meant heightened competition for the same labour pool, exacerbating the manpower crunch.

Some hotels have managed to stand out from the pack by using robotics solutions to address these challenges.

Says Herve Duboscq, General Manager, Hotel Jen Orchardgateway Singapore: “Hotel Jen Orchardgateway Singapore in collaboration with StarHub and Savioke is honoured to be among the pioneer international hotel brands in Singapore to introduce Jeno, autonomous relay robots. The inclusion of Jeno is an innovative and practical solution to manual duties, helping the team to deliver amenities and in-room dining orders more efficiently. Known for creating unique experiences to our guests, Hotel Jen Orchardgateway Singapore, through the use of Jeno managed to surprise and impress our urban adventure-travellers.”

For example, Aethon TUG robots - heavy-duty automatons that are able to transport up to 635 kg of materials per trip and cart dirty linen single-handedly from guest rooms to a laundry collection point.

In doing so, they streamline age-old laundry processes - transforming what used to be a tedious seven-step process into a three-step automated one, and freeing up housekeeping staff from the dull, laborious, and time-consuming task of manually sorting soiled linen.

Even though most hotels already utilise various systems in their operations, most of these systems are standalone, or satellite - meaning they aren’t integrated with each other. That’s where smart robots deployed in hotels differ.

Because TUG robots are integrated with a hotel’s Wi-Fi infrastructure, elevator, and IT systems, they are able to navigate through the premises on their own - opening doors with ease, as well as calling and riding elevators without assistance.

Launched under a partnership between StarHub and STKinetics, these TUG robots will be deployed in three hotels this year.

Adds Thomas Eugene Chia, StarHub’s Vice President of ICT Engagement: “Typically, robotics today are single-role, single-purpose autonomous machines that are designed to do a particular range of tasks over and over again. As robots like TUG show, it is only when robotics are combined with other technologies - like radio-frequency identification (RFID) tagging for inventory counting and tracking - that new productivity gains can be uncovered.

“In the case of laundry and linen movement within a hotel, when a robot moves say a cartload of linen from one floor to another, the RFID sensors will keep track of inventory level as it moves across different locations. As such, inventory levels can be monitored and maintained at an optimal point.”

The usefulness of such automatons extends well beyond the hotel industry. In fact, we are already using cleaning robots are already being used in the food and beverage sector, logistics robots are playing a part in the manufacturing space, and hospitals are enlisting the help of robots to collate patient information and even drugs transportation.

It’s important to note that these robots do not replace the local workforce - they are targeted at service sectors where manpower resources are tight and mostly filled by temporary or contract workers, at lower-skilled levels.

Through its Enterprise Business Group, StarHub is at the forefront of driving technology adoption, offering robotics solutions to companies via its ‘as-a-service” business model. This means companies can rent smart robots on a monthly lease model - much like car leases - sparing themselves from having to deal with hefty upfront investments and long-term maintenance costs.

Says Mr Chia: “StarHub offers managed robotics as a service, very much in the manner a manpower company offers contract workers to clients to help in their daily operations. StarHub adds value by offering an 'all-in-one' lease rental to customers.”

This way, companies can stick to doing what they do best - such as selling hotel room nights - instead of being bogged down with owning, operating, and maintaining robots.

“Ultimately, it’s about making technology work for you, by deploying robotics solutions to help with operational efficiency, reduce reliance on manpower, and contribute to sustainable profits,” adds Mr. Chia.

Indeed, given Singapore's manpower-constrained landscape, the use of robotics is bound to ramp up quickly. With StarHub’s “robots as a service" offering, companies can ensure they continue to deliver what Singapore has long been known for - the highest efficiency and service standards.


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