Gov’t unveils new plan for robotics

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Gov’t unveils new plan for robotics

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As many developed countries invest heavily on developing robots that can work in extreme situations, the government rolled out a robot industry development plan worth about 2.6 trillion won ($2.5 billion).

The government aims to produce quality robots by shifting its R&D focus to existing industrial demand. It believes such a move can give robots a central role in the nation’s economy.

The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said that Korea should follow the global trend of integrating robot technologies in existing manufacturing industries in the short term and invest in robots that solve social problems in the longer term, meaning rescue robots, health care robots and advanced manufacturing robots.

Korea will put about 80 billion won into building basic R&D infrastructure specifically for disaster recovery and rescue robots, providing prototype test beds for other government ministries which may have demand for such robots.

Each robot development project will have a task force, and the Industry Ministry will implement a program that benchmarks the Darpa Robotics Challenge program, a disaster robot development contest led by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), to focus investment on winning projects. The ministry said it is also discussing with Darpa to send Korean robot talents to the contest to receive training there.

Citing policies from the world’s leading robot developers like the United States, Japan and the European Union, the government is planning to build a healthcare town where automated robots assist senior citizens, and a robot business zone in which manufacturers test out robot parts and a smart factory system. Both districts will be completed by 2019.

“Existing industries’ demand for robots should expand in a bid to take the local robot industry a step further to become Korea’s next generation stronghold,” said Kim Jae-hong, first vice minister for industry. “We will support the robot industry to secure more source technologies and tighten its connection with other industries.”

The ministry’s previous plan, which ran from 2008 through 2012, produced practical artificial-intelligence robots like small cleaning robots and surgical robots. It formed a small industry worth about 2 trillion won and attracted private sector investment comprising 54 percent of total robot investment last year, among which only 14 percent came from large conglomerates. Such robots also generated exports of about $600 million in 2012.

However, industry members said yesterday they still lack R&D projects on source technologies, a decent robot parts industry and a stable overseas market, at an industry meeting held yesterday at Korea Technology Center, in Yeoksam-dong, southern Seoul.

According to ministry data, the industry remained at a 2 trillion won level until 2012, while the world market grew to $13.3 billion.

BY KIM JI-YOON [jiyoon.kim@joongang.co.kr]



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