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In times like these where social distancing has become the new normal, what’s more safe than a robot bringing your groceries? I’m not talking of a utopian future. In fact, 700 residents in Singapore will soon be serviced by two of robotics start-up Otsaw Digital’s robots.

Named ‘Camello’, these robots will serve residents as a part of a one-year trial, where they can book delivery slots for groceries, milk and eggs included, through an app. This app will also notify them of the robot’s presence near a pick-up point, like the lobby of the apartment building they stay in.

This idea was many years in the making. It all started when CEO, Ling Ting Ming, went to San Francisco in 2015 to search for new inspiration and learn about new technologies. Back then, robotics was a big thing and he decided to give a shot at building autonomous technology for robotics.

Ming saw just how demanding some of the labour-intensive jobs could be and truly believed that robotics would be the solution for the future. Fast forward to today, the demand of the robotics market is more than it has ever been and is steadily on the rise. 

“Today, OTSAW fundamentally is not about people using technology, rather technology being used to help people. Yes, there is the intention of solving some of the more labour-intensive, mundane and even dangerous, low skill-based jobs. But what drives us as a company top-down, we’ve also thought about how our technology can be responsible, socially and environmentally,” says Ming

In 2020, the company launched three different types of robots. During the first peak of Covid, its UV-C LED disinfection robot took 60 days from conceptualisation to development to production. In 2021, Otsaw unveiled the world’s first-ever autonomous, LED UV-C disinfection robot, and it gained worldwide recognition for the Camello.

“When we were able to use our technology to develop a UV-C disinfection robot, we didn’t want to contribute to a long-standing issue of using mercury light bulbs like most other disinfection robots, especially since the after-effects were severely detrimental. The intense situation of Covid inspired us to make a LED UV-C disinfection robot, that was lab-tested with various bacteria and viruses (including human coronavirus), allowing us to use the technology to keep people as well as the land, water and air safe.

“A bigger looming issue is tackling the carbon footprint. We simply can’t order 10 items and have 10 different vans send us these items. All round, it’s just not sustainable. Yes, customer satisfaction is important, but we believe we have to go slower to go faster, and taking it back a step to preserve what we have been given for our future generations is more important

“We have to believe in the greater good of people and industries. We are living in a reset, and what better time to wipe the slate clean with expectations and provide education on how we can positively impact our communities,” he adds.

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The Challenge of last-mile Delivery

I wanted to know more about Otsaw’s last-mile delivery robot. I was especially keen to find out more about the ongoing trials and how these these autonomous delivery robots work.

Ming explains: “When we kicked off the initial meetings with the different facilitators from all the different ministries, the real core of the trial came about to test how ready AMR/last-mile delivery robots were in terms of technology, infrastructure, process and stakeholders such as merchants, end-users. Feedback alongside data analytics is everything, with needed mileage and this will allow us to plan how we will use autonomous robots safely, and coexisting with humans.

“The infrastructure for the Camello to map and move safely on pavements and ramps was ideal. It took us roughly 12 months for the green light and we decided on a specific launch in March.

“Last-mile delivery has been a growing challenge for business to consumer markets. Due to the development of many malls and housing estates in Singapore, there is a big gap in the demand for deliveries in housing estates and a shortage of supply from retailers. There will be two Camello robots running in this trial delivering parcels and groceries to lift lobbies.”

Speaking about the autonomous technology powering Camello, Ming adds: “Our proprietary mapping and navigation technology, using 3D Simultaneous Localization and Mapping, allows for better accuracy and safety. Using our algorithm, we fused all the data collected from various advanced sensors to generate more accurate results and a higher level of safety. Using AI and Machine Learning capabilities we are able to operate better with heightened capabilities and responses, adapt, learn and recover from failures and unpredictability.”

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“We now see robots popping up that make you a coffee on the spot.”

Apart from Camello, the last mile delivery robot, whose potential use cases comprise areas such as logistics, ad-hoc delivery such as on-premise food delivery, supplies in the future, Otsaw has three other robots – the O-RX, the O-R3 and the O-R2.

The O-RX is a UV-C LED disinfection robot, and can be used within indoor spaces likes shopping malls, office buildings, healthcare facilities, hotels and airports. Its outdoor security robot, O-R3, is actively used for outdoor patrolling and surveillance at parks as well as oil and chemical plants. Finally, its O-R2 is a concierge and security robot used in indoor spaces such as offices, shopping malls and hotels

According to Ming, there is an increased need for the last-mile delivery solutions in Singapore, and the demand for such services have only accelerated post the Covid-19 pandemic, giving this market a much needed boost. “Lux Research reported predictions that automated last-mile deliveries will generate up to $48.4 billion in revenue by 2030,” he says.

“There is a big gap in the demand for deliveries in housing estates and a shortage of supply from retailers. As a nation, we cannot possibly SCALE-UP, as we only have a certain amount of population.

With Covid-19 expected to continue being a problem in the long term, contactless services are here to stay.

“Consumers can order food or purchases online and instead of having the item handed to people at their door, purchases are dropped on their doorstep for them to pick up, removing the need for in-person interaction. The adoption of contactless technology is set to be accelerated by the Covid-19 crisis where companies try to address the concerns of a public with heightened germ awareness, investing in technology that will reduce touchpoints and equip them to take on longer-term shifts in consumer behaviour.

“Most of our robots are B2B robots. Next, we are looking at the F&B and retail market. This industry is very labour-intensive due to long hours. A lot of the workforce in the retail industry are usually feeling fatigued and there is a massive turnover rate. It’s a big problem.”

“From feedback from those in the industry, we want to help the F&B and retail by innovating and coming up with robots to help. For example, we now see robots popping up that make you a coffee on the spot. Its efficiency and productivity levels are high, this is one market we are looking to break into,” concludes Ming.

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