DPM Heng Swee Keat at the Official Opening Of OTSAW's Global Headquarters

DPM Heng Swee Keat | 13 July 2022

Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at the Official Opening Of OTSAW’s Global Headquarters on 13 July 2022.

Mr Koh Choon Hui, 
Chairman, OTSAW

Mr Ling Ting Ming,
Founder and CEO, OTSAW

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning. When I was a student, the Robots book series by Isaac Asimov was all the rage. In his books, robots were sentient and could perform most of the tasks a human could do, if not more. Isaac Asimov was ahead of his time. Five decades on, we are not quite there yet. But we are getting closer.

With Industry 4.0, robots have become more pervasive. Globally, there are 3 million industrial robots in operation, based on a report by the International Federation of Robots. The number has doubled in the last five years. Singapore has one of the highest robot densities, with more than 6 robots per 100 workers. Our robot density has been growing at more than 25% each year since 2015. This trend is unsurprising, with advancements in robotics and automation. Industrial robots are replacing highly repetitive and labour intensive tasks. This is especially so in manufacturing. Lights-out manufacturing is becoming more commonplace – factories which are fully automated, with little or no human intervention needed. But increasingly, we are also seeing the deployment of service robots outside of manufacturing, where robots can potentially take on a wide range of applications, such as security, healthcare, and last-mile delivery. 

Robotics is particularly relevant for Singapore, and other ageing economies. Across the world, we have seen how an ageing population and a declining workforce can cast long shadows on a country’s economic dynamism and social vibrancy. With automation and robotics, companies can potentially deliver more and better, with a smaller workforce. The COVID-19 pandemic has further accelerated the shift to robotics and automation. We are in the age of Industry 4.0, and robots will be even more pervasive in the coming years. But there are understandably anxieties that robots will disrupt jobs and even some industries. Indeed, technological advancements and globalisation will drive structural changes. We have to learn to make the best use of change to create new possibilities. We must learn how to deploy robots to do a range of arduous and repetitive tasks, and increasingly even smart tasks, to augment what we can do uniquely as humans. To succeed, we must invest in R&D, in innovation, and in education and lifelong learning. 

Hence, robotics, together with the development of human potential, are important areas of our Research, Innovation, and Enterprise 2025 plan. The National Robotics Programme serves as a rallying point to create a vibrant and growing robotics ecosystem. The Programme comprises our institutes of higher learning, research institutes, government agencies, and a multitude of industry players. The potential of robots is catalysing a diversity of robotics technology and solution providers, and a growing number of start-ups. Singapore must continue to support promising companies to venture forth, and encourage them to develop distinctive capabilities and competitive niches, by investing in research and innovation which are critical for our success. 

OTSAW is one such promising company. A homegrown enterprise that was started in 2015, you have gone on to make an impact on the robotics scene. Today, OTSAW has accumulated 1 million days of robotic operations under your belt. You have developed robots for various purposes, including autonomous security patrol robot O-R3, and last mile delivery robot Camello.  When COVID-19 struck, you came up with a new robot – O-RX. This is the first UV-C LED disinfectant robot in the world, which is being used to disinfect shopping floors today. And you continue to innovate, expanding into the healthcare space and deploying your products to more countries. I am glad to hear from Ling that OTSAW is planning to list on NASDAQ next year.  As you grow, so too has your staff strength and operational needs. From a modest crew of about 10 at founding, you have grown into a team of more than 60 today, across Singapore, Boston, and Munich. As importantly, as you expanded your floor plate, what is heartening is that you continue to undertake most of your innovation and R&D activities here in Singapore, including in autonomous navigation and video analytics.  

I am happy to launch your Group Global HQ here at the JTC Space @ Tampines North today. This new 1,600 sqm premise will enable you to accommodate your Singapore expansion plans, as you plan to grow the team in Singapore to 100, creating new high value jobs in deep tech. There is also an Experiential Centre that showcases the entire range of your products and its use cases. The Global Fleet Management Centre, for the day-to-day operation and maintenance of your fleet of robots worldwide, is also housed here. I look forward to exploring your new premise in the tour later. 

Let me conclude by congratulating OTSAW on the opening of your Global HQ in Singapore. This is yet another milestone in your short history. I look forward to your greater contributions to the robotics landscape here, as you work in partnership with the National Robotics Programme and with our work on the human-machine interface. I also look forward to you making a greater impact on the global stage, as we expect more robots to operate seamlessly in our midst, freeing up humans to take on more complex endeavours. Congratulations and all the very best.