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Robots lighten load for air cargo workers

It will definitely take some of the weight off air cargo workers' shoulders. Robot machinery, that is.

Two prototypes have been developed by Singapore Technologies Dynamics (ST Dynamics) and the other by TUM Create.

The ST Dynamics prototype uses a 3D-scanning system to assess the size and weight of the cargo.

An automated forklift then moves the load and places it in the most convenient space. This is done using a software that assesses where to place the cargo.

TUM Create's prototype, Speedcargo, uses a 3D camera to take a snapshot of the properties of the cargo. An artificial intelligence software plans the placing of cargo and a robotic arm completes the placement with high precision.

Mr Paul Tan, vice-president of technology development at ST Dynamics, described the prototypes as game changers for modern airports and the cargo-handling process, 40 per cent of which currently requires manpower.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) said the prototypes help cut workers' load by 30 per cent and use storage space more efficiently by 4 per cent. But in terms of build-up time, or the time taken to stack the cargo, they fall behind workers by eight minutes.

The two finalists were selected from 13 teams and awarded a total of $4 million in funding to develop their prototypes for the second Aviation Challenge.

Their prototypes were then assessed by a panel which included representatives from CAAS, DHL, Global Forwarding, dnata Singapore, Sats, the Singapore Air Cargo Agents Association, Singapore Airlines Cargo and the Singapore Logistics Association.

The winning team from ST Dynamics received a cash prize of $300,000.

Ground-handling firms Sats and dnata have expressed interest in further developing the prototype, which was designed in partnership with Israel Aerospace Industries.

The CAAS hopes to see both prototypes developed further for use at Changi Airport.

Mr Kevin Shum, director-general of CAAS, said: "The solutions are cutting edge. They have the potential to transform the cargo handling process - benefiting airlines, ground handlers and workers."

Said Dr Suraj Nair, project leader of technology, development and commercialisation at TUM Create: "With this success, Singapore can lead the competition in logistics and develop high-tech artificial intelligence solutions far beyond the original target markets."