Local SME fights crime with robots

'Humans should look at analytics and data to do preventive crime rather than reactive crime,' tech boss says

CROOKS beware - there is a new crime buster on the block. Meet O-R3 - OTSAW Digital's proprietary crime fighting robot solution to the security industry's manpower crunch. Armed with data-collecting sensors to detect security abnormalities, the O-R3 is the watchdog that never sleeps.

"We don't want humans to do the repetitive work," said Ling Ting Ming, founding CEO of OTSAW Digital and - parent company - ActiV Technology. "Humans should look at analytics and data to do preventive crime rather than reactive crime."

Enter OTSAW Digital, which is Hebrew for "house of treasures" - Mr Ling's elite company of shock troops with a mission to channel cutting-edge technology to solve basic problems. Mobile apps, Internet of Things, and robotics - two years was all it took to dabble in it all.

The firm's journey began when Mr Ling went to Silicon Valley in search of fresh growth for his technology solutions business. As it turned out, he was enamoured by the Valley's innovative culture, which nurtured his faith in robotics technology.

"I took a fresh look at the digital world because I felt that we need to own an intellectual property (IP)," he said. "We wanted to have our own destiny. I always believed if the West could do it, why can't we?

"I started to assemble a team to build O-R3, because I saw a big opportunity. Asia has none of these yet."

OTSAW Digital's presence in six major cities allows it to synergise an international division of skills, to draw from each locality's distinctive expertise and fill technological gaps in Asia.

Mr Ling said that what they have developed already exists in Silicon Valley. But he pointed out that his version is improved with an in-house sensor fusion technology and with added featured such as an aerial drone.

In fact, being at the crossroad of an extensive technological exchange network has attracted the attention of prospective partners seeking to benefit from the company's competencies.

Mr Ling says his Japanese partners see it as a means to catalyse new technologies swiftly - without bureaucratic red-tape. Japanese interest was further piqued by OTSAW Digital's patented 3D-SLAM artificial intelligence technology, which was developed in the US, and has proven to be a compatible match for Japanese hardware.

"We are working with them to explore opportunities to deploy some of the robots during Japan's 2020 Summer Olympics. We want to showcase our robots during the Olympics."

Meanwhile, interest in the O-R3 is already brisk, with several sizeable local and overseas institutions keen. This includes the Dubai Police Force, which is planning to deploy 100 units, in time for the Dubai Expo 2020.

But the O-R3 did not come easy; Mr Ling estimates an initial investment of $10 million in research and development and production facilities. Legal fees stemming from patent development added a "six figure" sum to the burden of cost.

Money ploughed into innovation is essentially a shot in the dark, but Mr Ling said that technology companies are in the business of innovation and must reinvest profits to remain ahead of the pack.

"A lot of profitable SMEs rest on their laurels, and would only realise it is too late when growth is irreparably slowed. You need to be forward-looking because technology evolves so quickly," he said.

"SMEs do not understand (the need to invest heavily) because cost is everything to them, but when you talk about innovation, there is a price to pay."

People, too, are a point of consideration in times of rapid change. When he announced his venture into the digital realm, some of his senior employees were dumbfounded by his desertion from the traditional solutions-provider business model.

"I had to explain to them that I, too, felt uncomfortable, but scaling the value chain and developing our own IP - such a transformation is imperative for our survival."

The risk seems to have paid off. Possessing a patented robotic mapping technology has placed OTSAW Digital in good stead for the promising autonomous mobile platforms industry.

Mr Ling says autonomous vehicles constitute a core strength and has set his sights on improving roadsweeping vehicles and logistics robots. He also plans to boost O-R3's manufacturing capacity, while doubling his Asian presence to at least 12 cities by 2019.

All these blueprints for growth require funding, and Mr Ling is making an ambitious sprint for ActiV Technology's initial public offering within the next two years. But his wish as a local SME? Securing local talent. "I'm hoping locals will change their mindset and be just as keen to join promising SMEs."