Solving The Manpower Crunch With Mobile Robotics

Solving The Manpower Crunch With Mobile Robotics

Chor-Chen Ang, CEO of Singapore-based company Sesto Robotics spoke with IAA on the current COVID-19 crisis and the timing of their new Autonomous Mobile Disinfectant Robot referred to as Healthguard.

Chor-Chen Ang

Was the healthguard developed in response to the current pandemic or was it something that was already in the pipeline?

Chor-Chen Ang (CCA): As I mentioned earlier, we are building solutions and have built applications that are deployed in hospitals. It is a space we look at. But in particular, for the healthguard, I think it was really a response to COVID-19 primarily because we saw two drivers.

The first driver is, of course, the heightened need to disinfect and clean public facilities more frequently. And perhaps that is difficult to sustain with the manpower. And secondly, of course, again because of a safe distancing and manpower constraints due to the lockdowns. 


I think facility operators are facing challenges and getting the usual crew back online to take on cleaning tasks. And so I think there is a huge impetus for them to seek technology solutions to plug the gap.

For us healthguard is definitely a response to the demand from the market and the requirements from the market. And we do see it not just as something which is in great demand for the short term, but I think the new normal I suppose most people will accept is going to be in a safe distancing and heightened requirements for cleanliness and hygiene. 


Are there other products in the market that do something similar to the healthguard?

CCA: Before we developed this product, we looked at what is available in the market. And most of the other players used UVC, which is UVC at the 254 wavelengths, which is a programmed solution to disinfect and to deactivate viruses and bacteria in our other industries already. This is applied in food manufacturing, in healthcare, in building maintenance, and so forth. 

We looked at what was being offered in a market. And we realised that one big downside is the fact that UVC while being very effective, but at the same time, it cannot be used around people.

This is because there is impact on the skin and the eyes, over some prolonged exposure. Usually, these UVC robots are confined to be used after operating hours. 

We are talking about the window of opportunity when the shopping mall or a train station is shut for the day. And that could be maybe six to eight hours during the night when the robots can come into play. 

So once you factor in the fact that the robots do have enough time, because they are running on batteries, effectively looking at these robots running from maybe five hours in a day over 24 hours. 

We realised that two problems here are one: it is not being used productively enough because it is only during the night. And how do we lengthen the usage, so we need to complement. We came up with a solution whereby our robot has a two in one, which essentially has a disinfectant solution sprayer, and we pair that with the UVC lamps. 

The idea is that during the day, it can be safely operated, and used in public facilities. The robot can patrol around different stations or waypoints in a public space, and then the sprayer comes into action and disinfects high touch surface areas. 

This is perfectly safe to be done during operating hours. And then in the evening or the nighttime, the UVC is turned on for deep cleaning. 

As such, effectively we are delivering 16 hours of usage time compared to five hours, which is almost a 3x differentiator. And more importantly is how much area you can disinfect is really a function of the time it is available to run. Because UVC can only disinfect a certain space in a given time. So if you are running only four or five hours a day, there is only so much space you can cover. We are covering 3x that because we are running almost a whole day. 

And secondly, a point to note is that, the time you really need to disinfect frequently is when people are in the facility. 

Take for example a train station, when people are in the train station touching certain high touch areas, like the rails and so on, you want to be constantly or as frequently as possible disinfecting. 

If you wait until nighttime, then the exposure time for other public members that touch the same surface could lead to cross contamination that may occur during the time when the robots are not working. 

As such, in our case, because the robot is also being used during the daytime, you actually get to disinfect when it’s most needed.


In terms of new technologies, new products, what is your development roadmap?

CCA: For us being an OEM in mobile robotics, and of course, our core industry is manufacturing. We are looking at the fact that when manufacturing operators engage mobile robotics as a technology, there is usually a lead time to setup and deployment. 

As such, as part of our product roadmap, we are focusing very much on the software end of things. We will be launching a mission app we call it. So what that does effectively is to reduce the lead time required to deploy the robots in a manufacturing facility, and to simplify the process for the system integrators or the end users to calibrate and configure their robots in accordance to their workflows. 

While the mobile robots do the material handling, moving from a particular pickup location to a drop off location. But different workflows in different companies require the behaviour of the sequencing to be a bit different. 

Our mission app basically solves that problem by making it very easy and highly configurable for the system integrator or the end user automation team to set up and to basically calibrate the behaviour of the robots according to their requirements. That is one of the solutions that we will be rolling out in the second half of the year.

The other one, which is more hardware centric, is we will be launching quite soon a new mobile robot platform. The form factor is more compact compared to our current existing product. But it still shares the same capabilities in terms of payload, as well as battery uptime. So essentially, we are shrinking the form factor almost by 40 percent. And yet delivering the same performance to the end user. And of course, we have also enhanced some of the intelligence that comes with it. 

That is two of the things we are working on. We are known for our fleet management system that has been in use in the market already by various customers. So we are looking at perhaps making it available as a solution or a product to even other robotic companies. This would allow them to tap-into some of the rich features that we have in our fleet manager. 

These are some of the things we have been working on and we will be rolling out in the coming few months.


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