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NTU’s Corporate Lab for Advanced Robotics

An SG$ 24 million (US$ 17.8 million) Corporate Lab for Advanced Robotics has been established through a collaborative effort between the Nanyang Technological University (NTU Singapore) and a leading private global provider of IoT-based smart green solutions. The joint lab was launched in a ceremony attended by the Minister of State for the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Alvin Tan.

The lab is supported by Singapore’s National Research Foundation’s Research Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2025 plan. Over the next three years, the lab will concentrate on developing next-generation technologies to address the challenges posed by labour shortages in the manufacturing and intralogistics industries. Intralogistics refers to the internal flow of goods and materials that take place on a company’s site.

According to a press release by NTU Singapore, as businesses transition into Industry 5.0, collaborative robotic systems will become an essential component. This shift is driven by the need to address the challenges posed by an ageing workforce and declining birth rates, which have led to a shortage of manpower globally. The adoption of collaborative robotic systems offers a solution to this manpower crunch by facilitating human-robot collaboration and enhancing productivity across industries.

These systems encompass a variety of innovative technologies including human-touch-inspired robots capable of adjusting their grip to pick up a range of materials, from fragile glassware to volatile chemicals. Meanwhile, smart sensing, radar, and 3D sensor systems allow autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) to navigate and operate in a dynamic environment with human traffic like hospitals and warehouses.

The lab creates opportunities to transform the university’s research efforts into meaningful and practical innovations that can make a real difference in the world, an official from NTU Singapore noted. It aligns with NTU’s strategic vision for 2025, which focuses on leveraging the potential of digital and advanced technologies to drive the exploration of new knowledge and enhance learning and living experiences.

An official from the National Robotics Programme (NRP) said that NRP welcomes the partnership and looks forward to the build-up and commercialisation of more differentiated robotics capabilities for the manufacturing and logistics domains in the country and beyond.

NTU is a leading institution in the field of robotics research. Last year, NTU researchers developed a tough and stretchable material for self-repairing soft robots, inspired by elephant and crocodile skins. Soft robots have great potential to be used in applications requiring a gentle touch, like assistive surgery or medical rehabilitation. However, their softness makes them vulnerable to damage.

NTU’s tough and self-healing material called 2-ureido-4-pyrimidinone-based-carboxylated polyurethane (UPy-CPU) could revolutionise the field of soft robotics. Self-healing, soft and tough robots could aid in rescue missions to navigate harsh and inaccessible environments, such as collapsed buildings, for locating trapped individuals.

The material was developed by making modifications to the chemical structure of polyurethane, a versatile and flexible material widely used in medical devices and construction materials. To repair cracks in the material, the researchers used solvents like chloroform, acetone, and isopropyl alcohol. When applied to the damaged areas, the material healed on its own within 12 hours at room temperature. The exceptional toughness of UPy-CPU was demonstrated when a crawling robot made from this material continued to function even after being crushed by a load that was 4,000 times its weight.

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