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Robotics: the view from ASEAN

Over the past decade, ASEAN has been one of the fastest-growing economic regions in the world, driven by significant FDI and competitive labor costs. While ASEAN’s position today is often compared to China’s in the early 2000s, several critical factors differ, including far higher demand for sustainable practices and transparency; the level of digital integration among its Millennial and Gen Y workforce; the emergence of smart technologies such as IoT, AI and digital twins; and the growing affordability and capabilities of automation technologies. 

To explore the question of ASEAN’s future and its response to the fast-evolving global robotics market, we spoke to Jean-Francois Trebillod, ASEAN General Manager of Aden Group.

 

 

 

How do you see ASEAN fitting into the global robotics market? 

I think we can say that ASEAN is very well positioned - geographically and economically - to benefit from the global surge of research and development in robotics. We’re a meeting point for business from China, Europe and America, all the main hubs of R&D in automation. And of course, the region has its own pioneers in the field, like Maju Robotics and Garuda Robotics from Singapore. 

One thing that must always be remembered is how diverse a place ASEAN is. You can see this even in Aden - we are everywhere from Singapore, one of the world’s most advanced smart cities, to remote camps in Indonesia. So, naturally, the level of robotics varies but there is no question that it is a long-term trend that will be increasingly visible in facilities here. 

What is Aden ASEAN’s role in robotics? 

Aden has an interesting position here because we have never wanted to be a manufacturer of robotics. Rather, we combine our experience in facilities and integrated solutions with the global robotics network of the larger Group. Because we’re not tied to one product or manufacturer, Aden has the freedom to integrate and tailor solutions very close to clients’ needs; and the facilities we operate can become real sites of innovation in robotics. Now that we have launched our digital twin platform Akila, the possibilities for data and integration will only grow. 

Now, speaking to the ASEAN region specifically, we really believe in the future of robotics long-term, despite a perception that the ASEAN economy is just about getting a better cost on manpower. We couldn’t disagree more – and at Aden ASEAN, we really make it a priority to push technological solutions to the front because no economy stays fixed for long. Just look to history, as economies develop, the labor pool gets smaller and more expensive – the classic drivers of robotics and automation.

If you talk to young people in Jakarta, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, etc. they are on a different trajectory - digital, professional, much more concerned about the environment and sustainability.

So, we are confident that robotics is going to be a growing component of ASEAN’s economy, and that Aden is building solutions for the new, smart economy rather than the man-powered one. 

What is the trend in robotics that you are most excited about? 

The integration of different technologies and functions in one robot. To give an example, in the past, you might have a security robot that just does security patrol or a cleaning robot that just cleans floors. Increasingly though, that same robot might be able to simultaneously collect data about temperature, air quality, or other important aspects of the built environment. This is all driven by IoT and can be an important component of smart buildings, as well as data collection for ESG reporting. 

What are the factors that have slowed down the uptake of robotics in ASEAN, and do you see those changing in the future? 

As I mentioned, we definitely see this changing. It has to be admitted that labor costs are still considerably low, which has made the pressure to adopt robotics seem less urgent in the region. But ASEAN is still at the beginning of its transformation. It’s looking very similar to what has happened in China in the early 2000s which is now getting a surge of foreign direct investment (FDI). Over the past twenty years, the total amount of incoming FDI rose from about $40.7 billion in 1999 to a record-high of $179 billion in 2021. We will see a similar pattern, quite possibly and even faster in ASEAN because we are jumping off from a different point with more technological advantages, such as those provided by robots. ASEAN also has a very young population that’s very digital and forward-thinking. 

Obviously, Covid-19 has had a huge impact on the region. What role can robotics play in the return to work and in future outbreaks? 

During the pandemic, we have seen disinfection robots that can provide a cleaner and safer environment. In 2020, Aden Group has integrated the industry’s leading technologies and resources to develop and deploy disinfection robots that achieve a 99.9 percent disinfection rate. Hygiene and disinfection robots can perform ongoing sanitation autonomously and they can be of great significance to the reopening of schools and workplaces in Southeast Asia. 

Aden Group is also exploring new opportunities in the R&D of zero-contact robots that cut down on the risk for virus transmission, the robotic solution can replace old-school buttons with AI and mobile-based commands to minimize site contact, and the zero-contact experience is crucial for countries that are coming back to reopening. And by making robotics R&D a long-term strategy, we’re going to be able to manage future outbreaks better with more assurance and confidence. 

We also have exciting applications of drones that are deployed to support remote camps in logistics and daily operation. 

The rise of the robotics industry in ASEAN is a positive sign of growth, the trend is helping the economies and fueling robotics development for the new era, and Aden Group is looking to implement, test and innovate in robotics across not just facilities in ASEAN but also global to bring better, more innovative facility services. 

Source: Aden Group

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