Making cleaning robots a reality

LionsBot International, the company behind LeoBot, is the first in Singapore to mass-manufacture professional cleaning robots.

MAKING a robot in under seven months is no easy feat, but husband and wife team Dylan Ng and Michelle Seow, together with assistant professor Mohan Rajesh Elara, did just that.

The robot, LeoBot Scrub, is the first of a series of fully autonomous specialised cleaning robots developed by Singapore-based robotics company LionsBot International.

The cleaning robot is capable of vacuuming and scrubbing to a professional standard. Furthermore, it has interactive characteristics, such as the ability to convey its emotions through its eyes and voice. The robot is also capable of simple human interactions.

LionsBot International is the company behind LeoBot. Founded in February 2018 by Mr Ng, Ms Seow and Prof Mohan, the robotics company is the first in Singapore to mass-manufacture professional cleaning robots. Mr Ng and Ms Seow are also the owners of professional cleaning equipment and chemicals supplier SuperSteam Asia Pacific of which LionsBot is an associate company.

Right robot

Mr Ng had been travelling around the world for cleaning technology solutions since 2012 but he couldn't find anything that fit his requirements. "Most of the robots were just a bit too large and because of that they were moving slowly and they were also very expensive, so it was always very troubling, we wanted to find that right robot," said Mr Ng, who wanted to incorporate different cleaning mechanisms.

The couple had knowledge in cleaning, but none in robotics, so they reached out to Prof Mohan in December 2017 after coming across his research in the newspapers. Prof Mohan had been doing research in robotics for the past 13 years but always had an unfulfilled passion to enter the commercial marketplace with his knowledge in robotics. It was thus a perfect match for the three of them, given how they complemented each other.

Mr Ng said that most working prototypes take around one to two years to complete but the LionsBot team managed to do this in seven months. To achieve this was not an easy task as they had to overcome many challenges.

To begin with, good engineers were essential to creating the robot, but given Singapore's manpower shortage, well-trained engineers were hard to find. Fortunately, Prof Mohan's connections came in handy and he invited many engineers to help with the robot.

Time was also another constraint for the team. Mr Ng said that moulding the robot would typically take around three to four months. However, with rapid prototyping techniques such as advanced 3D printing and simulation software, they were able to overcome the time obstacle.

"We were so happy when we saw the robot blink and talk for the first time and when it started moving it was as if your first child was born so we felt that the effort was worth it," Mr Ng said.

The company adopts a "Robots-as-a-Service" rental-based business model, where customers can rent a robot for S$1,200 per month, in contrast to purchasing a cleaning robot for S$85,000.

LeoBot made its official debut at Singapore International Robo Expo (SIRE) which was held from Nov 1-2, 2018, at Sands Expo and Convention Centre, Singapore. The robots will be available in Singapore by June 2019.

Two cleaning service providers in Singapore, Chye Thiam Maintenance and Absolute Maintenance Service, have each already ordered 50 robots.

The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) predicts that the market for service robots to be worth around US$11 billion by 2020.

While the robots are strictly for commercial usage, LionsBot does not rule out the possibility of a range of robots for domestic purposes only.

They seek to position Singapore globally as the leading recognised source for commercial cleaning robots with all of their robots entirely researched and manufactured in Singapore.

"LionsBot is born of our shared dream of a future where cleaning robots become truly useful and widely adopted," said Mr Ng.