Abluo's autonomous cleaning bot

SINGAPORE: Singapore is up for another groundbreaking development with Abluo’s autonomous cleaning bot. The autonomous toilet-cleaning robot created by graduates from the Innovation and Design Programme at CDE is gearing up to debut in public washrooms across Singapore in early 2024. The brainchild of the start-up Hivebotics, Abluo aims to transform the age-old challenge of maintaining clean public toilets, The Straits Times reports.

Public toilets have long posed a persistent challenge for cleaners, and Abluo is poised to provide valuable assistance. The robot, equipped with advanced sensors providing a 3D view of its surroundings, autonomously navigates toilets, identifying stains and areas requiring attention. A swiveling arm armed with various implements, including brushes and a steam spray attachment, enables Abluo to tackle stubborn stains and bacteria efficiently.

Named after the Latin word for “cleanse,” Abluo is designed to significantly reduce the time human cleaners spend on toilet maintenance. Tuan Dung Nguyen, co-founder of HiveBotics, expressed the vision to allow human cleaners to focus on other essential tasks while Abluo handles the labor-intensive aspects of toilet cleaning.

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Development of Abluo began in early 2021, with support from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and JTC Corporation. The robot is currently undergoing trials in diverse locations, including industrial parks, hospitals, malls, and the airport. Public testing is slated for the second quarter of 2024, paving the way for the commercial launch in July.

Co-founders Tuan Dung Nguyen and Rishab Patwari, both graduates of NUS, drew inspiration for Abluo from a friend who faced challenges maintaining cleanliness due to a shortage of cleaning staff. To better understand the intricacies of public toilet cleaning, the duo engaged in work attachments with cleaning service providers at NUS, malls, and hotels between January and September 2023.

During this period, they gained valuable insights that informed the development of Abluo’s tools and software. The team introduced innovations such as a steam spray attachment to address challenges like scrubbing away tough stains and dried-up toilet paper. The robot’s current capabilities include cleaning urinals, toilet bowls, sinks, and mirrors.

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NUS has played a pivotal role in supporting HiveBotics’ project. The university welcomed Abluo as a prototype in 2021 under its Graduate Research Innovation Programme. This initiative provides researchers with essential resources and funds of up to S$100,000 to facilitate the commercialization of innovations.

While Abluo operates under a human cleaner’s supervision, the HiveBotics team has trained the robot to recognize cleanliness. An ultraviolet sensor will soon be incorporated to detect invisible stains to further enhance this capability.

According to Priscilla Lau, manager of infocomm media and start-ups cluster at JTC, JTC’s LaunchPad initiative, supporting start-ups with resources and networking opportunities, recognized the potential of the HiveBotics project.

NUS Enterprise associate vice-president Benjamin Tee commended the project for tackling the often overlooked but essential toilet cleaning task. He noted, “This is a very complex operation to automate, and it has the potential to address strategic challenges that Singapore and other developed economies faces such as manpower shortages and rising labour costs.”

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As Abluo prepares for its public testing phase and subsequent commercial launch, it holds the possibility of revolutionising public toilet maintenance in Singapore and possibly offering an added solution to the Clean Public Toilets Campaign 2023./ TISG