Robotics Priorities Reflected in Korean Self-Driving Tests; AI Could Be in Your Next Sofa

May 05, 2017      

Despite growing global markets, different companies and countries have widely varied robotics priorities. Add drones, self-driving cars, and artificial intelligence to the mix, and local development rises in importance.

Robotics Business Review has partnered with me to bring you a weekly roundup of the top robotics developments. This week, we look how the world’s biggest furniture retailer may be eyeing AI, how IBM wants drones to pass packages to each other, and South Korea’s nationalistic approach to self-driving cars. Are you ready to be updated?

IKEA looks to AI

Space10 is IKEA’s innovation lab. The housewares retailer is talking with customers to understand what they would like to see in a “virtual assistant.” This discussion is causing people to ask whether IKEA is looking at deploying artificial intelligence in future furniture offerings.

Should IKEA integrate robotics into its products, it will change the industry. IKEA is the world’s largest furniture retailer, so it could bring robotics and AI to consumers and public awareness in a way they haven’t been so far.

However, such a move will also create new challenges. For instance, there are questions about how the interaction data that the virtual assistant records would be used, stored, or shared. This in turn leads to new privacy challenges, as household furnishings could all be gathering and transmitting data.

Ultimately, furniture and appliance businesses will have to comply with government regulations, in a robotics priorities “equation” that wasn’t imaginable just one year ago.

Singapore bets big on AI

Singapore’s National Research Foundation (NRF) has launched a program called “AI.SG” to grow its AI industry. A total of S$150 million (about US$107 million) will be invested in a three-pronged plan to grow the industry across the economy.

This move represents the second major government investment in AI this year, after Canada unveiled a $125 million initiative earlier this year. These two developments point to the growing importance of robotics for the future of many economies around the world.

As countries become more aware of AI and robotics priorities, they will invest more in developing these technologies. While this bodes well for automation companies looking for new markets or funding, it could also exacerbate existing challenges, such as automation induced-job losses.

Singapore is the latest nation to jump on the AI investment bandwagon, but it surely won’t be the last. Others to watch include Taiwan, South Korea, Germany and the U.K.

Nationalistic autonomous vehicles

As South Korea struggles to find the appropriate way to deal with North Korea, its companies are moving swiftly in another area: self-driving cars. Seoul has given Samsung Group permission to test autonomous vehicles on South Korean roads. Samsung will be using Hyundai vehicles outfitted with proprietary technology such as sensors and guidance systems.

Robotics priorities in South Korea involve both Samsung and Hyundai.

Samsung will be using Hyundai vehicles to test self-driving capabilities.

Samsung’s choice of Hyundai over cars from Lexus, which are predominately used by companies testing self-driving capabilities, points to a new “nationalistic” approach to robotics and related technologies.

Tomorrow, will Baidu begin using Cherry vehicles, or an Indian firm Tata Motors? The approval is also noteworthy because it is the latest South Korean development since the government announced billions in funding for industrial automation last year.

Seoul’s green light for Samsung could not only reflect its robotics priorities but also set a precedent for exclusively local development of self-driving cars and robotics.

Passing packages in midair

Today, drones can pick up and transport a single package. Tomorrow, drones may be able to pass packages to each other in midair. That’s what is being proposed in an IBM patent application, and it could allow people with personal drones to send these drones to pick up packages being transported by logistical drones, like those Amazon is working on.

IBM’s patent also includes a “cloud computer” overlooking the entire drone delivery process as drones pass packages to each other. This reflects the robotics and drone industry’s shift in focus from hardware to software as a differentiator.

IBM’s patent also provides a glimpse into how different systems are converging to work together — in this case drones and cloud-based AI.

Arguably, Tesla Inc. was the first company to move into this space with its over-the-air updates of driver-assist software. How will delivery drones and consumer robotics benefit from similar innovations?

More on Global Industrial Robotics Priorities:

India’s robotics priorities include futureproofing workforce

A former soldier in the Indian air force has started a company to affordably bring robotics education to schoolchildren. He has developed his own robotics curriculum and has been working with different schools in India since 2013.

Teaching young students about robotics bodes well for India for two reasons. First, automation is expected to eat jobs in India, with the latest projections saying 69% of jobs in India could be replaced by robots. By teaching kids about robotics, they will have access jobs to that may have a lower chance of being automated (in the short term).

Second, today’s Indian graduates may not be employable, with a state education minister saying that 50% of graduates do not have the skills to get a job. Once again, robotics will give graduates in-demand skills that they can use in India or abroad.

By elevating education levels in India through robotics, the country’s future workforce won’t just outshine their predecessors, but may also have a skill set that most workforces around the world don’t.

This possibility should force policy makers in other countries to incorporate robotics priorities into their curriculums to help their workers and economies stay competitive.