National Robotics Programme receiving $60m to help spur robot adoption in industry

The robot testing area of Lionsbot’s robotics factory in Kranji Loop on April 18. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE – A total of $60 million will be invested in the National Robotics Programme (NRP) to develop robots and push more companies in the manufacturing, logistics and healthcare sectors to adopt robotics.

The NRP is a national platform that oversees the research and development (R&D) of robotics in Singapore. It is funded by the National Research Foundation (NRF) and hosted by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research.

The investment, which was first announced during the Budget debate in March, aims to help Singapore nab a slice of the growing global robotics market, which is worth roughly $50 billion today and is estimated to grow beyond $60 billion by 2028, said the NRP on April 18.

The authorities aim to spur the adoption of robotics here through investment and encouraging collaboration to help research find a market, said Minister of State for Trade and Industry Alvin Tan at the opening of the new Kranji factory of Singapore-based robotics company Lionsbot on April 18.

The company is known for its floor-cleaning robots – which trawl shopping malls, warehouses and schools – including its line of blue-eyed cleaners, LeoBots, which look like Eve from the Pixar animation movie Wall-E.

The $60 million fund will support the RoboCluster initiative, an R&D collaboration platform for the NRP to work with industries – starting with the facilities management sector – by offering forums, workshops and other platforms, backed by its network of researchers and experts.

It will soon extend to healthcare, logistics and other sectors, said Mr Tan.

Its first session will be held at the Singapore University of Technology and Design in July.

To start with, it will focus on researching and developing robots that specialise in cleaning building exteriors, which have not been as well adopted as floor-cleaning robots, said a spokesman for the NRP, adding that collaboration with industry players will help pinpoint ideas to invest in.

Mr Tan said: “The (RoboCluster) initiative is aimed to catalyse and foster stronger collaboration, and to translate R&D into enterprise.

“Many small and medium-sized enterprises may be interested in robotics, but they may not know how to adopt them, so that is something we need to discuss. In Lionsbot’s case, you can deploy the robots for cleaning. But can you do so for other aspects like food or facilities management?”

Mr Terence Teo, president of trade association AutomationSG, said members have expressed concerns over a shortage of manpower, and that staff were often held down by mundane tasks, like inspections and toilet cleaning, which can be supported by robots.

“There is a lot of opportunity for robotics to play a part in the facilities management sector,” said Mr Teo, pointing to toilet-cleaning robots and inspection bots that can check for defects in a facility and consolidate reports.

Minister of State for Trade and Industry Alvin Tan (third from left) touring Lionsbot’s robot factory on April 18. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

First formed in 2016, the NRP initially focused on robotics, but it has now ventured into R&D projects for standardised machines that are fit for a wide range of users, to drive adoption.

The $60 million investment will add to more than $450 million in funding that the NRF has poured into the robotics programme.

Recent projects backed by the NRP include robots that scout for rodent infestations in false ceilings and the use of drones to clean Gardens by the Bay’s Supertrees, tipped as a safer, more efficient way to clean large structures.

Lionsbot factory

Lionsbot’s $12 million factory in Kranji aims to quadruple the company’s production output compared with its older facility in Changi. It will develop robots, from assembly, testing phases and quality checks, to finally packaging them for delivery, all under the same roof.

The company said in a statement that the factory is the largest cleaning robot factory in South-east Asia, with an area of 5,000 sq m, or about the size of a football field. The facility comprises a warehouse to store robot components and a production area where employees assemble and calibrate the robots before sending them for deployment.

The quality control and robot assembly areas of the Lionsbot robot factory on April 18. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

With the new plant, which has added 55 new roles to the company’s workforce, Lionsbot aims to manufacture up to 4,000 robots each year to deliver to its growing pool of clients across more than 30 markets. It estimates the new facility will drive up to $40 million in sales revenue annually.

Lionsbot chief executive Dylan Ng said the company aims to double its sales revenue to US$30 million (S$41 million) in 2024 and turn a profit by 2025, and added that the new facility is key to achieving this milestone.

The company is making headway into a new generation of smart robots that use artificial intelligence in decision-making, such as planning the best times for cleaning based on the environment, without the need for humans to configure, said Mr Ng.

Among Lionsbot’s robots is the Rex series, its largest machines priced around US$80,000, which are designed to clean large venues like warehouses and malls, and can clean up to 100,000 sq ft per charge.

The company, which has around 200 employees worldwide, has sold more than 2,500 robots since 2018, and has expanded overseas to the Netherlands and the US, among other markets.

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