Designing robots for national security

Creating and playing with robots may sound like fun and games but it is “just another day at the office” for Mr Lee Guoming.

The senior assistant director of Robotics, Automation and Unmanned Systems (RAUS) at Home Team Science and Technology Agency (HTX) is working on a project that involves the use of virtual reality (VR) technologies for teleoperation and end effector manipulation. Teleoperation refers to the remote controlling of a machine while end effector manipulation refers to using robotic parts to interact with the environment.

“It feels like something from the Steven Spielberg movie Ready Player One where a person controls his avatar in a massively multiplayer online role-playing game using VR,” Mr Lee says of his project. “In my case, the avatar is a physical robotic system.”

He adds that the machines are not intended to replace officers. The goal is to develop intuitive human-system machine interactions so that an officer can take over the control of a robot seamlessly during mission critical instances with minimum training and resources to sustain the competency.

Mr Lee also develops a connectivity framework to enable interoperations between RAUS assets and Internet-of-Things devices.

“This is essential for RAUS to function autonomously and collaboratively, and truly be a force multiplier for the Home Team,” he says.

On this note, Mr Lee and his team are involved in enhancing the Multipurpose All-terrain Autonomous Robot (MATAR) by enabling robot teaming and data exchange with devices, such as CCTVs and smart doors, to achieve greater robot autonomy.

With the added capabilities, not only can the MATAR expand its deployment beyond autonomous patrolling in protected and public areas, but also be more operationally effective.

HTX is a Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) agency, set up in December, that focuses on creating new science and technology (S&T) capabilities for homeland security and life-saving operations.

Solving real-world problems
Working with robots is the ideal job for Mr Lee, who graduated from the National University of Singapore in2006 with a Bachelor in Mechanical Engineering. Upon completing his studies, he joined Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) as an armament engineer procuring safety critical weapons and munitions for the Singapore Armed Forces. Seven years later, he joined the S&T department at MHA, as it would enable him to develop new capabilities for homeland security.

“I performed reasonably well in engineering-related studies during my academic years,” he says.

“But it was only after I started working that I realised I had a flair in the application of engineering knowledge and technology to solve real-world problems. National security is something that resonates strongly with me and that is why I choose to continue an equally meaningful career in HTX.”

Keeping the nation secure
While the job comes with its fair share of challenges and failures, Mr Lee finds it fulfilling to be able to play a part in national security. His advice to budding engineers and scientists looking to embark on an S&T track with the Home Team is to adopt a never-say-die attitude.

“Besides the appetite to take calculated risks in the work we do, which is at the forefront of technology and unique to Home Team operations, having the resilience and tenacity to bounce back and continue pushing the boundaries are crucial.”