In this post, we look at Southeast Asia’s robotics startups making names for themselves. This follows on from previous posts where we’ve looked at PropTech, eCommerce, MedTech and bike-sharing startups, as well as uncovering a list of Indonesia’s most active venture capitalists (VCs).

Why Isn’t Robotics a Big Thing in Southeast Asia?

Currently, Southeast Asian robotics startups are way behind startups in the region’s other sectors when it comes to the amount of investment they’re attracting from VCs and startup accelerators.

Why is that? Simply put, it’s harder and more expensive to produce robotics hardware and software in the region, especially compared to other parts of the world, such as North America, with its $1.9 billion USD robotics market value (2017). But it’s not all doom and gloom; from Roceso Technologies to Zimplistic, Drivebot to Efishery, here are four Southeast Asian robotics startups to keep your eyes on.

Roceso Technologies (Singapore)

Healthcare-focused Roseco Technologies is ‘Singapore’s first soft robotics company’. In an interview with Asian Entrepreneur, Jane Wang, Co-founder and CEO said, “Roceso Technologies is the first soft robotic company in Singapore and a pioneer in Asia. We bring independence and dignity back to people’s lives.”

See our interview with Roceso Technologies CEO Jane Wang

The startup, established at National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Department of Biomedical Engineering, was formed to improve healthcare provision, with ambitions for robotics to synergise with the physical functions and tasks of healthcare professionals.

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The EsoGlove from Roceso Technologies

“Robotics will enable patients to optimise their therapy time, thereby speeding up their recovery process, potentially saving treatment-related costs and time. The quality of life of patients can be greatly improved through robot-assisted tasks,” said NUS Assistant Professor Raye Yeow.

Zimplistic (Singapore)

Singapore-based Zimplistic develops intelligent kitchen appliances that promote healthy diets. Founded in 2008 by husband-and-wife duo Rishi Israni and Pranoti Nagarkar, its ambition over the past decade has been to build intelligent solutions to problems by integrating the internet of things (IoT) with consumer robotics.

Its flagship product, Rotimatic, is a device for making flatbreads (also known as rotis) without human supervision. The fully-automated robot processes the ingredients and produces the rotis in less than a minute, with the cutting-edge technology seemingly impressing the health-conscious community.

The device generated $20 million USD of revenue in its first 12 months, with Zimplistic’s 120-strong team working to make sure these figures continue to rise over the long-term.

Zimplistic has raised $48.5 million USD over four funding rounds (Angel, Series A, B, and C) and is backed by lead investors EDBI, Openspace Ventures, and Credence Partners.

Following the latest funding round (Series C) in April 2018 when Credence Partners and EDBI, the investment arm of Singapore’s Economic Development Board, backed the business, Israni and Nagarkar spoke about the company.

They said the team is excited about their vision for the “kitchen of the future,” yet they were realistic about their venture’s potential. “Zimplistic started selling Rotimatic slightly over a year ago. As a young startup, we have a long way to go and many challenges to overcome.”

Drivebot (Thailand)

Launched in Bangkok in 2013, the following year Drivebot raised, via Indiego crowdfunding, $35,000 USD for its device that helps drivers check their vehicle’s gas levels so they can save on fuel by changing their driving habits.

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The drivebot product. Image courtesy of Facebook

To simplify, Drivebot is what could be considered “A Fitbit for cars.” The device monitors vehicle health all day every day and sends alerts whenever there’s a problem, which saves vehicle owners money on maintenance costs. It also provides driving feedback, which will ultimately make roads safer.

The device, which is installed into a vehicle’s OBD-II (available on nearly all cars sold since 1996), connects with drivers’ iOS or Android smartphones and claims to “Turn Your Smartphone into an All-Seeing, All-Knowing Mechanic for Your Car.”

Here are the startups turning the region green

eFishery (Indonesia)

Founded in 2013 by Indonesian fish-farmer-turned-tech-entrepreneur, Gibran El Farizy, eFishery develops smart, cloud-based fish feeders for both fish and shrimp farming.

The automatic feeders allow users to schedule feeding time, record real-time feeding and access a wealth of data from anywhere using their smart devices. The aim is that the device will solve the problem of over and underfeeding in a reliable and affordable manner.  

“When hand-feeding, the feed is immediately thrown in large quantities. When this feed is submerged in water, some nutrients can be lost—up to 98 percent—within an hour. So the fish is given food, but there is no nutrition,” El Farizy said when he explained the problem for which he had found a solution.

Over separate funding rounds, eFishery has raised $1.2 million USD from four investorsGSMA Ecosystems Accelerator, The Pearse Lyons Accelerator, Aqua Spark, and Ideosource.

El Farizy, the 27-year-old founder was included in the 2017 Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia manufacturing and energy list. He said: “I believe that eradicating poverty and hunger can be done by disrupting the agriculture sector through technology.”

In 2017, eFishery entered the Thai and Bangladeshi markets after previously securing over 300 users in Indonesia. El Farizy points out the clear benefits for farmers. “Some fish commodities are nocturnal. Now with this tool we can do something that humans can’t do.”

What does the future hold for Southeast Asian robotics?

There are some interesting and innovative players in the Southeast Asian robotics market, as we’ve outlined here. But what does the future hold? If the likes of Rocesco, Drivebot, Zimplistic, and eFishery continue to innovate at the same time as the rise of rapidly developing tech hubs, accelerator programmes and investment funds will be queuing up to offer millions of dollars worth of seeding.

Their investments will take the region’s robotics innovations to kitchens and living rooms, vehicles and agricultural businesses across Asia—and even into global markets.