Singapore, renowned for its technological innovations, now boasts a remarkable addition to its landscape – 5G-powered river-cleaning robots. These cutting-edge machines, technically known as “unmanned surface vessels” or USVs, are designed to combat pollution and maintain water quality.
The USVs, or river-cleaning robots, are a product of Weston Robot, a Singapore-based company specializing in robotic solutions. These autonomous vessels are currently deployed in Marina Bay, a central area surrounded by iconic city landmarks and a hub of business and residential activities. The persistent issue of pollution in this area prompted the collaboration between Weston Robot and the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), a statutory board under Singapore’s Ministry of Communications and Information.
Singapore’s substantial investments in 5G technology have paved the way for this innovative project. IMDA committed around $30 million to 5G research and innovation in 2019, followed by a further $21 million for 5G commercialization two years later. By February, the nation’s first two stand-alone 5G networks had already covered about 95% of the country, with expectations of full coverage by 2025.
The pilot robot project was initiated in September 2022 and is scheduled to conclude in the first half of 2024. Weston Robot’s CEO, Yanliang Zhang, who also serves as an adjunct associate professor at the National University of Singapore, explained how 5G technology enhances the capabilities of these river-cleaning robots. The real-time remote control of these robots is made possible by 5G’s superior upload bandwidth, allowing seamless transmission of data collected by the robot’s sensors and cameras to a network of servers. Zhang emphasized that the 5G connection not only enables remote operation but also provides real-time alerts and a comprehensive view of the robot’s activities during the cleaning process.
Zhang emphasized the importance of a 5G connection for achieving desired efficiencies and ensuring the safety of the robots. This significant technological leap marks a transformation from the previous method, which relied on gas-fueled boats operated by humans. These boats, according to Channel NewsAsia, were responsible for emitting up to 20 tonnes of carbon annually. In contrast, battery-powered robots have the potential to reduce carbon emissions by about 80% compared to their human-operated counterparts.
Rather than relying on nets, which were previously used to collect trash from the water, the robots autonomously navigate paths to reach the debris. The netted “arms” on the robots then guide the trash into the vessel’s body for storage. Furthermore, these robots are equipped with tools to test water pH levels and a chemical oxygen demand (COD) sensor. The COD sensor measures the levels of oxidizable pollutants, such as sewage and industrial waste, in the water. The ability to monitor pollution is vital, as it can significantly impact water pH and disrupt the environment in Marina Bay, home to diverse wildlife, including otters and Asian water monitors.
While currently operational in the Marina Bay area, Weston Robot has ambitious plans to expand the deployment of these 5G-enabled eUSVs to multiple locations throughout Singapore, encompassing park connectors, city canals, ponds, and reservoirs. This initiative not only showcases the potential of 5G technology but also highlights Singapore’s commitment to a cleaner and more sustainable future.