This robot paints and cleans high-rise buildings

A team of engineers in Singapore developed Outobot, a robot that cleans and paints skyscrapers.

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ELID-NTU new OutoBot spray painting a wall at an industrial estate in Singapore. (Image: NTU Singapore)

Painting a skyscraper is hard work. The contractors who paint high-rise buildings need knowledge of painting as well as scaffolding, rigging, and suspended access equipment. The job is specialized, dangerous, and full of risk. So, researchers in Singapore have developed a robot that cleans and paints high-rise buildings. Singapore is the perfect location for the project, since there are 5,656 high-rise buildings and 242 skyscrapers, according to real estate data mining company Emporis.

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The robot, called Outobot, was developed by ELID Technology International and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. It consists of a robotic arm that is mounted on an automated gondola. The arm has six-degrees of freedom and is equipped with high-pressure jets that can spray paint or water for cleaning. The robot uses a camera to scan the building and automatically map the areas to paint or clean while avoiding windows.

Automatic spray painting ensures that just the right amount of paint is applied in an even coat so that paint isn't wasted. The team behind the project estimates that the automated system saves up to 20 percent of paint. The robotic setup requires half the amount of manpower than traditional high-rise painting and cleaning. Usually a five-person team tackles the job, with a person on the roof, another on the ground, and three painters suspended on a gondola. Outobot only requires two people -- a safety officer and an operator who controls the robot from the comfort of the ground.

"Our aim is to make the cleaning and painting of high-rise buildings easier, safer and more cost-effective," explains NTU professor Chen I-Ming, who jointly led the development of OutoBot. "By using spray painting over conventional roller painting, our robot is also more precise and efficient, minimizing waste and saving paint."

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(from left) NTU Professor Chen I-Ming, ELID Group Managing Director Dennis Lim and ELID Vice President Kenneth Wong at the launch of the OutoBot in Singapore. (Image: NTU Singapore)

The project aligns with Singapore's Smart Nation initiative, a national effort to use technology to address urban challenges.

"With Singapore's rapidly aging workforce, we need to find ways to enable our employees to continue contributing despite their advanced years," says Managing Director of ELID Technology International, Dennis Lim, who first came up with an idea of the robotic system. He adds, "Using our new robot, we have shown that a labor-intensive job can transformed into one that can be easily done by an older worker, and at the same time eliminating the risk of employees having to work at heights."

Outobot has already been tested on an industrial building and will now continue trials on residential buildings in Singapore. It is expected to start its first commercial job in the next few months.

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