Expert Column Asian Robots in Fierce Competition
Expert Column Asian Robots in Fierce Competition
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  • 승인 2006.09.01 12:01
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Robot violence or robot soccer imminent The following is the second part of 'Robotics, Korea vs. Japan', a contributory article by Kim Jong-hwan, professor at KAIST. The first part appeared in the August issue.--Ed. According to World Robotics, an annual statistics report of the International Federation of Robotics, the number of robots currently in operation in Japan stands at about 360,000, accounting for about 48% of the total robots in operation in the world. In terms of industrial production by robots, which accounts for about 99% of the robotics market, the industrial output in 2001 fell to 6,57.5 billion yen (about 6.575 trillion won), barely a half of what it was in the previous year due to the IT market's burst bubble in 2001. Nonetheless, this figure still represents a whopping 3.7 times greater figure than that of the second ranking United States. If we look at the number of robot-related applications filed with patent offices since the 1990s, the gap has grown still further. Whereas there were about 4,400 applications made in Japan, the comparative figures in the United States and the whole of Europe numbered 1,000 and 1,900, respectively. Since Korea's flagship industries of autos, semiconductors and displays are those whose industrial output cannot be made without robots, Korea's robotics has been growing along with such industries. According to data released in 1992 by the International Federation of Robotics, the industrial usage rate of robots was the highest in Japan with 272 robots for an industrial population of 10,000, followed by Germany and Korea with 127 and 125 robots respectively. In terms of the total number of robots in operation, Korea was ranked the fifth after Japan, the US, Germany and Italy. Korea's robot industry which has made advancements along with the automobile industry is currently faced with some problems. The most vulnerable point is that the industry is not mature enough to have secured technologies for core parts. Even though Korea's application technologies are eyecatching, the truth is that it relies on imports for most of its core parts that require high levels of precision and reliability such as motors and reduction gears. Korea, grasping technological power Then, will Japan not lose its top ranking place in the field of robotics in the future too Not necessarily so. This is because there are not only many cases in which Korea has made attempts ahead of Japan but there are also many industry fields in which Korea has been leading ahead. Cautious forecasts have begun to come forth that the time is not far away when Korea will be leading the world robotics market. The New York Times reported in its April 2, 2006 issue that South Korea is on its way toward becoming a nation where science fiction turns out to be everyday life and that the world's most wired country is preparing for a robotics revolution. In addition, it said that Korea has succeeded in getting 72 percent of all its households to enjoy the benefits of broadband Internet and that about 17 million out of the 48 million people belong to 'Cyworld', a Web-based homepage service through which everyone is interconnected. Also, the paper introduced Korea as a hightech nation where its people have been able to watch television broadcasts on cell phones since January and where WiBro, the world's first super fast wireless Internet service, enables Koreans to remain online on the go ever since April of this year. The newspaper added that networked robots--such as security robots, those guiding customers at post offices and home robots teaching children to learn English and sing--are scheduled to enter mass production in 2007. Moreover, the paper said that such intelligent robots are expected to be in every South Korean household between 2015 and 2020, citing a forecast of the Ministry of Information and Communication. Meanwhile, HUBO, a humanoid robot developed by a research team at KAIST, made its first appearance to the public less than three years after the research began in earnest in 2002. This is truly a remarkable feat in comparison to the ASIMO of Japan that took fifteen years to develop. In terms of manufacturing costs, too, it is known to have cost 1 billion won to develop HUBO whereas about 300 billion won was poured out for ASIMO. I, too, have been developing a series of small humanoid robots called 'Hansaram HSR' since 2000 for commercial service. The very technologies Japan has boasted about are being developed one after another at lower costs but with better qualities at University labs in Korea. Korea's robotics policies and creativity The primary support elements that will help us to surpass Japan are robot development practices utilizing an IT network base and strong policy support. In 2003, we selected intelligent service robots as one of nine new growth engines of the nation's economy and also formed the concept Ubibot for ubiquitous robots through vision and planning committee meetings in April. A ubiquitous robot, as I define, is a robot that can provide voluntary services wanted whenever and wherever by using any device through any network. Ubiquitous robots are integrated forms of robots that have combined Sobots (Software robots), Embots (Embedded robots) and Mobots (Mobile robots). As a component part in charge of robot's intelligence, a Sobot can freely move back and forth between mobile terminals and computers by utilizing networks. It is based on a concept that includes artificial intelligence or technologies for man-made living beings that currently exist. As for Embots, which are embedded into the environment, they can comfortably recognize their surroundings and assist Sobots or Mobots in easily marking, or tabbing, the environment by processing information. Mobots, meanwhile, are robots that are comprised of mechanical parts with mobility. At the time of its development, the robot was code-named URC for Ubiquitous Robot Companion to prevent our robot project from being known to outsiders. In the meantime, Japan has similarly made public the development of network robot technologies as a government project in February 2004. As if it had been following in our footsteps, Japan presented three types of robots, namely, Virtual Robot, Unconscious Robot and Visible Robot. Japan's sorting of robots somehow gives me the feeling that they were made up in haste with clumsy English. Let me further explain to those readers who may not understand what I mean. Even though the Unconscious Robot literally means an unconscious or a blacked-out robot, what Japanese actually meant was an Embot like ours. Anyhow, what is important more than anything else is that such a network-based robot is already ready for its commercial service in Korea. The national robot, launched under the supervision of the government, is set to be open to the public before October this year with a price tag in the range of one million won (approximately one thousand US dollars). Since the housing environment in Korea is more or less standardized with apartments, it is easy to adopt intelligent robots. Also, the likelihood that the national robot will be a success is quite high as Korea is furnished with one of the world's best Internet infrastructures. Moreover, Sobot, the software robot I mentioned earlier is set to be displayed on the market as a component part to PDA phones or mobile phones. This concept, too, is a product launched first by us. Sobot is the very robot that appears and helps us whenever we want just like the Genie of Aladdin's Magic Lamp. In the case of robots of the future, our creativity and ability to react instantly will gain further momentum. If we classify robots by the time of development, the first-generation robots are none other than industrial robots while intelligent robots and ubiquitous robots belong to the second and third-generation robots, respectively, to be followed by gene and bio robots. As far as first-generation robots are concerned, Japan led the robotics market. However, when it comes to second-generation robots that require advanced technologies in various fields, we have been rearing them as a next-generation engine of growth in line with development strategies of the government. Concerning fourth-generation robots, it is forecast that they will be developed into robots that are mounted with genetic information systems on evolution and growth in addition to reproduction. The fifth-generation robots, in the meantime, are expected to be bio intelligent robots. Presently, we are in the middle of preparing for fourth and fifth-generation robots. In the fourth-generation robot evolution that we are leading, the task is upon us to develop robots as artificial living beings by infusing them with life, viewing robots as another species. Korea, birthplace of robotic competition FIRA RoboWorld Cup (www.FIRA .net), the world's first robot soccer tournament, is currently leading the international audience. And yet, when I was busy preparing the first international event back in February 1996, we had to fight another battle with a Japanese counterpart who made a request that we turn over to them the list of our international executive committee members along with their e-mail addresses, putting into question how Korea can hold such an event. Also, they gave me a flattering offer of making me their executive committee member instead. On top of this, they organized a similar event in Japan the following year by making fraudulent use of our hard-prepared tournament rules as if they had prepared the rules ahead of us. Besides this, they had indulged in spreading an unfounded thought that theirs is a good event whereas ours is one without any value for research. With Sony backing it as a patron, they were full of triumphant spirits just short of declaring a war on us. The Japanese side that had over strained its business was bound to suffer a blow as Sony had pulled out of its robot business. On our part, however, we prepared for the eleventh international Robot World Cup in Dortmund, Germany this summer, as we could make continued progress unhurt by excessive commercialism. Our creativity does not stop there. Rather, we are also leading the International Robot Olympiad, the contents of which range from Line Tracers for the general public to Dancing Robots and a Robot Marathon. It is scheduled that the International Robot Olympiad, which began in 1998 with the formation of the International Robot Olympiad Committee (IROC), will hold its eighth international event this year in Gold Coast, Australia, in early December. For some time I have tried to do my best to make Korea a robotics power by engaging in the research of ubiquitous robots and gene robots that are leading the world and, at the same time, by creating and operating non-profit international organizations like the Federation of International Robot-soccer Association (FIRA) and IROC. If we are involved in research in preparation for the future with practical goals, we can build a strong Korea that is quick in action with lots of brains that others do not dare to overtake. I ask once again. Can we really overtake Japan in the field of robotics Since we beat Japan in the World Baseball Classic, there is no reason we cannot do so in robotics too as we have aspirations and creativity. Truly, the robotics age has begun to open its doors. As a country that has inspired life into robots and that has taught sports to them, Korea will be the guardian of robots in the 21st century.

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