The interdisciplinary nature of robotics makes it a disruptive enabler for the urgent healthcare needs in an ageing society, for promoting productivity leading to economic growth, for ensuring sustainability of complex urban environment also for ensuring safety and security worldwide. Certain areas in robotics are identified as high potential growth sectors and they are Medical Robotics (e.g. Intuitive Surgical Robotics - Da Vinci surgical robot), Manufacturing Automation on difficult and non-automated tasks (e.g. Rethink Robotics – Baxter), Use of Autonomous UAV in military operations and upcoming opening of commercial market, and also Road Test License for Autonomous Vehicles. As we are now at a dawn of new age robotics and intelligent machine, a breakthrough in these identified areas may revolutionize our standard of living.
In line with Singapore’s vision to build the World’s first Smart Nation by harnessing technology to the fullest, our Robotics Research Centre (RRC) has set its future research in two directions: Human-Centric Robotics and Infrastructure Robotics.
Human-centric Robotics refers to robotics systems that are utilized in close proximity to human or even within a human body. With the establishment of LKC Medical School, RRC puts in strong R&D emphasis in healthcare robotics as well as encourage translational projects to benefit Singapore’s industry as a whole. EndoMaster Pte Ltd, a medical robotics start-up that has developed a novel robotic-assisted surgical system, perfectly illustrates how Singapore can take the lead in certain fields of medical robotics. Industrial robot and automation provides a strong link between NTU and the industry, both locally and internationally. A new direction for manufacturing robotics is to have robots to work alongside human workers, rather than working in isolation for the human. The role of these robots is not to replace human workers but to assist human workers in completing tasks with human intelligence and experience.
|Figure 1: Human-Centric Robotics in RRC|
RRC has been delving into Infrastructure Robotics and Automation as a relatively recent drive for R&D excellence in robotics. Infrastructure robotics refers to the use of intelligent robots and automation technology for civil infrastructure construction, inspection, and maintenance. Civil infrastructures include private and public buildings, bridges, tunnels, underground caves, parks, seaports, utility facilities, etc. Due to our ageing workforce and also the hazardous nature of tasks, using robotic technology to assist the workers to carry out their tasks becomes a necessity. Robotic equipment that are used for infrastructure applications are often operated outdoors. The uncertainties present in an outdoor environment make this research area challenging but worthwhile for robotics R&D.
Figure 2: Infrastructure Robotics in RRC
We believe these R&D focus will further boost Singapore’s reputation as well as NTU’s international reputation in niche robotics and automation R&D. Our focus on translational robotics R&D that could benefit the industry as well as innovative robotics spin-off companies, will further enlighten the productivity concerns in Singapore as well as assist other tasks that requires automation and robots to allow people to be free from rudimentary works, allowing for a more creative and highly value-added activities.
Professor Chen I-Ming
Robotics Research Centre