July 03, 2017      

Taiwan holds a solid position as a global leader in the semiconductor and microelectronics industry, hosting most of the world’s top integrated circuit foundries. Although chip production provides the island nation with a strong financial base, government, business, and academic leaders would like to see it move into additional technology sectors. Taiwan robot investments could protect the country against downturns in the cyclical semiconductor market as well as exploit new and potentially lucrative opportunities.

Asian companies and governments have long recognized how robotics, autonomous systems, and artificial intelligence can lead to economic growth. Taiwan’s automation strategy relies on its emergence as a global robotics producer.

In addition, Taiwan hopes to apply robotics across a wide range of sectors and make mutually beneficial international collaborations for development and manufacturing. This article is the first of two to examine Taiwan robot plans.

The expansion of Taiwan’s robotics industry is supported by extensive government-industry-academia collaboration. During the past decade, the government has sponsored a number of research and development projects as part of its 2005 Intelligent Robot Industry Development Strategy and 2007 Intelligent Robot Industry Development Acceleration Strategy.

Business Takeaways:

  • Government and business leaders are looking to the Taiwan robot sector to aid in manufacturing, diversify the country’s economy, and provide demand for its computer chips.
  • Taiwanese companies such as Foxconn have also pursued international partnerships to build up their robotics capabilities.
  • In particular, service robots such as Pepper and Ibotn could be a new area for Taiwan to demonstrate its technical leadership.

Foxconn up builds Taiwan robot industry

Powered by this government support, Taiwan’s robot industry is finally kicking into high gear. For example, Taiwan-based tech giant Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., or Foxconn Technology Group, is best known for manufacturing Apple Inc.’s iPhones and iPads. Last fall, the company said it had installed more than 40,000 industrial robots.

Foxconn is considering locating $10 billion of its production in the U.S., perhaps to head off possible trade restrictions from the Trump administration. At the same time, the company is planning to build an $8.8 billion factory for flat-panel televisions in Guangzhou, China.

Taiwan robot involvement includes Pepper.

SoftBank’s Pepper is built by Taiwan-based Foxconn in China.

In addition to industrial automation, Foxconn said that about 60,000 Pepper robots have been sold by the end of 2016. France-based Aldebaran SA developed the humanoid robot and was acquired by Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp. and renamed SoftBank Robotics Corp. Foxconn and China’s Alibaba Group each hold a 20% stake in the venture.

Pepper is designed to detect and respond to the human displays of emotion. The service robot uses IBM’s Watson to learn and comprehend a wide variety of information.

The robot has already found a home in a growing number of Taiwanese banks, insurance firms, and other public places, guiding and entertaining both staffers and visitors. Foxconn builds the units in its factory in eastern China’s Shandong province.

Robot caretakers

Foxconn is also preparing to market Ibotn, a robot developed by engineers at Stanford University, Southampton University, Taiwan University, Hong Kong Chinese University, and Huazhong Science and Technology University. Ibotn is designed to serve as a cyber babysitter, helping parents and caregivers keep an eye on infants and wandering toddlers.
Using its internal facial recognition camera, Ibotn can follow a toddler, keeping track of the subject’s movements and activities. Using knowledge of places that are dangerous to toddlers, such as balconies, bathrooms, and kitchens, Ibotn can send out warnings whenever a toddler approaches a hazardous place or situation.

Ibotn production is set to begin later this year.

More on Service and Taiwan Robots:

Asus also looks to home robots

Another well-known Taiwan-based tech firm, AsusTek Computer Inc., is also branching out into robotics. The company, best known for its Asus computer products, is pegging its hopes on Zenbo, a domestic robot released earlier this year.

Priced at $599, the system understands vocal commands and rolls around independently. Zenbo‘s prime mission is to remind people of things like doctor’s appointments, medication doses, and exercise schedules.

The robot can also detect emergencies, such as falls. Compact Zenbo stands about knee height to the average-size adult.

In my next article, we’ll look more closely at Taiwan robot research and development efforts.