In Robotics, its Korea vs. Japan
In Robotics, its Korea vs. Japan
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  • 승인 2006.08.01 12:01
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The following is the first part of a contributory article by Kim Jong-hwan, professor at KAIST, to be carried in the August & September issues....Ed. One way to raise Korea's national power is the uplifting of our capabilities in science and technology. Hence, I shall look into the hard facts and capabilities of Japan in the field of robotics, in which I am involved at the Korea Advanced Institute for Science & Technology (KAIST). When speaking of robots, it is Japan that comes first to mind. But, could this still be true in the 21st century Let us examine our potential. Recently, the development of robot technologies (RT) centering on humanoid robots has been in full swing in Japan. Enough to be called as the paramount leader in robotics, Japan boasts the world's highest level in robotics and their commercialization beyond that of the United States. Not resting on its laurels attained so far, Japan is undaunted and has an ambition to lead the robotics age of the 21st century that is based on humanoid robots. Leading corporations in Japan, like Sony, Honda, and Toyota, are pushing ahead with projects to dominate the world market with humanoid robots stamped with 'Made in Japan' in succession to transistor radios, TV sets, videos, semiconductors and game machines. With respect to the commercialization of robots, Japan has the know-how and experience that is one step ahead of the United States since its history of robot development began long ago. The word robot comes from the Czech word robota, meaning forced labor of serfs, and the term "robots" first appeared in Karel Capek's science fiction play, Rossum's Universal Robots, in 1921. The Capek play tells of a story how robots made by a scientist and doing difficult jobs in place of humans revolt against their human masters and ultimately rule the world. In 1962, 40 years after the advent of the play, the U.S. automaker General Motors introduced the world's first industrial robots to its manufacturing lines for raising productivity. With this as a starter, industrial robots began to be aggressively introduced in the manufacturing processes from the welding, assemblage and coating of automobiles to electronic goods. Today, there are about one million industrial robots supplied worldwide and the number is expected to grow much more in the days to come. Still, and since these industrial robots were made to perform relatively simple and repetitive works, their outward forms were far from resembling human appearance, and with no intelligence to speak of, too. However, intelligent robots resembling humans are now making their debuts one after another. This robot, which is called 'humanoid' comprised of a head, two arms and hands, a trunk of the body with two arms and feet just like a human, can work in place of humans by imitating the intelligence, actions and interactions of humans or render services through cooperative operations with humans. In this very field of humanoid robots, Japan has the world's most competitive edge. Japan leadsindustrial robots market Even though Japan had fallen behind the United States in developing robots, it succeeded in commercializing them ahead of the United States. During the introduction period of industrial robots in the 1970s and 80s, Japan led the industrial robots market worldwide. Japan, which displayed the world's best technologies in such fields as automobiles, electronics, and semiconductors, raised big profits by developing intricate industrial robots based on this and introduced them to markets at home and abroad. Presently, it is widely thought that about half of all the industrial robots supplied around the world are made in Japan. Not to be content with such a feat, Japan has been heavily investing in robotics in recent years under the appraisal that robot technologies (RT) is a high value-added industry of tomorrow together with IT (information technologies), NT (nano technologies) and BT (bio technologies). Japan forecasts that the RT market, whose market size stood at 500 billion yen in 2000, will grow to an 8 trillion yen market by 2025, and emerge as a paramount industry. If it had been the automobile industry that sustained Japan in the 1970s and 80s thanks to its economic spin-off effects, it is forecasted that the robot industry will play the same role in the years to come. Since last year, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry of Japan has been carrying out a project involving industries, academies and research centers under the name of "Robot Challenge Initiative in the 21st Century" for the advancement of the robot industry. Moreover, the government has also been pushing forward with the 'Human Robot Project (HRP)'. Above all, all the efforts made by the Japanese government, industries and related research centers are focused on the development of robots, specifically humanoids that could be utilized in various fields of people's daily lives. Aided by the wholehearted cooperation among the three parties of the government, industries and academic institutions, the robot industry of Japan is fast advancing into the age of humanoid robots that are centered on everyday life, from today's industry that is focused on robots for industrial use to that of robots for everyday use like robots for amusement as pets, for nursing patients, and for chatting. The emerging designs and functions of robots are becoming so much more diverse and intricate that it could not have been imagined in the past. Still, these robots can be said to be at the very initial stage of robot development in comparison to the one that appeared in the movie I, Robot. However, Japanese are in the process of slowly meeting in actuality the iron-armed 'Atom' and 'Mazinger Z' that they were glued to when they were kids. 'Atom,' savior of robot industry in Japan Japan has been clinging to the job of making robots resembling humans with all its capacities. The humanoid robots developed in Japan, all with charming and familiar looks, make humans pleasant and comfortable. Such an image of a kind robot cooperative to humans all began from the "ron-armed Atom." Even though 'Atom' was an animation character, the influence it had on Japan's robotics industry in fact was an immense one. There is no objection to speak of on the view that it is nothing but 'Atom' that had been modeled after by all the humanoid robots, including Honda's humanoid robot 'ASIMO'. Quite a number of people leading Japan's robotics industry these days had been building up their dreams of becoming a robot scientist during younger years while watching 'Atom.' The iron-armed Atom started life as a comic strip in a kid's monthly in 1951 by Osamu Tezuka who is also known as the 'God of Comics' in Japan. In Korea, the anime character was first broadcast in 1963. The robot Atom, discarded for not being fully grown in shape even though it had same emotions as humans, displayed loyalty to humans by fighting hard in battles between humans and aliens from the space. The characters of Atom that had never lost a smile on its face and remained faithful as a companion to kids cheered up Japanese reeling from the ashes of a war. Not only had Japan overcome the pains from a war lost and grown to become an economic giant of the world but also succeeded in introducing and industrializing robots ahead of any others around the world. And yet, the robot characters that have appeared in comic movies since Atom lost warm hearts and personalities. * Focusing on the development of humanoid robots With an aim to give rebirth to Atom as a character not only of Japan but of the world on the 40th anniversary of the 1963 series on April 7, Tezuka Productions in 2003 had undertook the "Atom Dream Project." By investing a total of 10 billion won, a new 'Atom' animation comprised of 52 episodes was produced with the effect of raising 200 billion won in the sales of goods alone through license agreements with 80 companies. Moreover, it is forecasted that the size of the market related with the character 'Atom' could well approach nearly 500 billion yen (about 5 trillion won) in the next three years. The reason behind the all-out efforts being made by Japan for humanoid robots is not confined to the Atom's image. As Japanese firms account for 60 percent of the industrial robots market, Japan stands in a class by itself in the robotics industry. However, the industrial robot market began to show limits in its growth since the 1980s. As robots had been deployed to most manufacturing lines, the robot market became saturated. Since then, Japan, with the government, industries and research centers all combined, began to dedicate itself to the development of humanoid robots. (to be continued in September issue)

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