Robbie helps scan books in the library
Robbie moves along the aisles of Temasek Polytechnic’s library with a barely audible hum.
With its four arms, it scans the books unobtrusively for their radio-frequency identification tags, logging the location of each book into an online database that can be searched by librarians and students.
Although most students pay no heed to it, Robbie is a workhorse, saving library officers 16 man-hours a day so they can now undertake less tedious work.
Before the robot – nicknamed Robbie by staff – joined the team in May last year, library officers would spend an hour a day manually checking whether books were in the right place on the shelves.
Temasek Polytechnic library director Puspa Yeow, 58, said: “Robbie is part of how we improve productivity and the user experience.”
The robot’s casing is customised to be transparent so that students can see what is inside it. Its arms automatically adjust to the height of the bookshelves.
If it is in any trouble, such as experiencing low battery or confronted by an obstacle, it e-mails staff to ask to be rescued.
Local firm Senserbot, a spin-off from a project by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, developed the robot.
Senserbot won a National Library Board contract last month, through main contractor NEC, to provide its library inventory robots, called Aurora, to six libraries.
The first deployment is at library@harbourfront while a pilot robot has been at Pasir Ris Public Library since the start of last year.
A separate pilot programme is expected to commence in Japan in the coming weeks.
The robot costs about $130,000 for its basic configuration in both hardware and standard software.
Senserbot chief technology officer Ho Chin Keong, 45, and vice-president for research and development Li Renjun, 34, designed the first prototype in 2015, in response to complaints from librarians about some of their laborious tasks.
Dr Ho said: “Singapore has been more of a receiver than an innovator for tech, but I believe we can develop great tech locally and push it out to the world.”
Library executive Maizurah Idris, 28, says Robbie has become like a “little brother” to her as she takes it to its home – a yellow fire-safety cabinet – at night.
Ms Maizurah has more time for her archival duties of indexing the polytechnic’s videos and memorabilia now that she no longer has to rearrange books on the shelves.
She said: “(Robbie) is very helpful for library staff. We can embark on our own projects and focus on our work.”