by Oliver Tian, President of Singapore Industrial Automation Association & the CEO/Director of HutCabb Services
Just like any high-tech industry that has preceded it, the growing robotics industry needs a thriving ecosystem to succeed. Every industrialised nation, and even some industrialising ones, are in the process of creating their own robotics ecosystem, either by design or by fortunate circumstance. Some of the requirements for a thriving robotics ecosystem are pretty much standard textbook items and Singapore already has them in place or are in the process of building them up. And perhaps we should also include a couple of uniquely Singapore ingredients.
First and foremost is, of course, education. Our schools provide curriculum components both main stream as well as enrichment programmes, which fundamentally support robotics contents. From coding at playschool, to specialised courses at tertiary levels, we are growing the necessary talents. These curriculum are also endorsed and validated by industry associations and carry their inputs.
Next would be funding. Singapore literally wrote the book on funding of industries that it sees as strategic to its economy. The $450m budget allocated for the National Robotics Programme, as well as the other support grants from the Automation Support Package, are great examples. On the start-ups side, there is a growing pool of venture capitalist funds targeting the various new technologies that includes robotics.
Networking and mentoring make up the fuzzier but no less critical parts of the robotics ecosystem. Singapore has put in place a government initiative – Action Community for Entrepreneurship, or ACE, to nurture and promote start-up which includes robotics start-ups. On the industry side, the Singapore Industrial Automation Association (SIAA) is also working on expanding the industry network beyond the Singapore shores, so as to work with the region’s leading technology groups by exploring collaborative opportunities with regional counterparts in ASEAN and the Pacific region.
These are the standard requirements for a thriving robotics ecosystem and now let us explore a couple of possible non-standard Singapore specific enhancements for a thriving robotics ecosystem here.
Specific early winners to lead the way
With Singapore’s relatively small market, it is very unlikely for us to achieve broad-based success in robotics early in the game. That is why we need specific early winners to lead the way. These early winners will be the reference model of success that can then be adapted to relevant industries and to showcase Singapore as a proven robotics innovation hub. Manufacturing is a natural starting point and should be an area of focus but it will also be the starting point for everybody else. Therefore, Singapore should also focus on cross pollinating critical sectors that has the potential to be early winners, too. Looking at Singapore’s sectoral needs where labour is an issue, the most likely sectors to be early adopters and possibly winners of robotics would be healthcare, retail and F&B, logistics, and construction.
Mitigation & adaptation initiatives
This last idea is a slightly unusual. It does not promote robotics in a direct way but rather facilitates society’s broad embrace of robotics through re-education, training and other adaptation efforts that will promote psychological acceptance, mitigate backlash and strengthen political will.
A conceptual example would be the introduction of casinos into Singapore about seven years ago. Casinos would give the Singapore economy a boost. Robotics would do likewise. However, casinos might cause problem gambling and other social ills. Likewise, robotics might cause dislocation for the workforce and societal pushback. As such, initiatives could be put in place to educate and train the workforce to work collaboratively with robots as well as other steps to soften the dislocating impact of robotics. While a robot tax may hinder the growth of the robotics industry, some means of funding for these efforts would definitely help.
About the Author
Oliver Tian is the President of Singapore Industrial Automation Association, and the CEO and Director of HutCabb Services. SIAA drives Automation, IoT, and Robotics (AIR), with robotics as one of the key pillars in our charter. The association has embarked on this robotic journey to bring automation to a different level and we believe the assimilation of man and machine functions can be a potent force to be reckon with.
Some of these ideas as well as other issues will be discussed at the upcoming 2nd edition of the Singapore International Robo Expo, a conference and exhibition co-organised by SIAA and Experia Events. The event will be held from 2 to 3 November at Sands Convention and Exhibition Centre in Singapore.