June 02, 2017      

Large countries such as the U.S., China, and Russia may have a lot of engineering talent, but they shouldn’t take their leadership in robotics, drones, and artificial intelligence for granted. A sound international AI and automation strategy includes looking at new regions, partnerships, and applications.

Robotics Business Review has partnered with me to bring you this roundup of recent robotics developments. Let’s jump from Dubai to Quebec as robotics diversifies and the global race intensifies. Are you ready to be updated?

The IEEE convenes in Singapore

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is holding its International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) conference this week. Organizations from around the world are showing off their innovations.

International AI includes smarter robot arms.

ETH Zurich’s robot arm can balance rocks on top of one another.

For example, Carnegie Mellon University has unveiled a tool that allows anyone, from amateurs to experts, to develop custom robots. Meanwhile, researchers from ETH Zurich, a university in Switzerland, demonstrated a new era of machine accuracy when they made a robotic arm create towers by balancing stones on top of one another.

But the biggest development at ICRA may not be new technologies, but the conference’s location. The event is not being held in Silicon Valley or Berlin. Instead, it’s being held in Singapore.

While the tiny country is not yet widely regarded as a global robotics leader, it is in Asia, the world’s fastest growing robotics market. Singapore has long been seen as a gateway to the rest of the region for Western firms.

The IEEE and other organizations have been pushing to connect Western companies with production and growing markets in Asia. Will they be successful in attracting the right innovations and investments, even as they compete with other international AI and robotics confabs?

Robots in the city of tomorrow

Dubai made headlines last month when it deployed a humanoid robot as a police officer. While this single development caught most of the attention, what is arguably more important is the government vision behind it all: By 2030, the city wants 25% of its police force to be robots.

Policing robots could be Dubai’s “trial” to test robots in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). If the deployment succeeds and has good results for law enforcement, Dubai can use it as a precedent for robots in other areas.

Note that Dubai is first experimenting with robotics with its police, just as the U.S. military pioneered the use of drones for law enforcement. Unlike other countries that are investing in robotics for manufacturing, the UAE appears to be investing in unconventional areas.

From automated hospitals to self-driving flying cars, what else is the UAE planning? Is the Middle East becoming a testing ground for cutting-edge robotics?

Germany, China deepen cooperation

Ever since Midea Group’s acquisition of KUKA AG, industry observers have been watching the steps China is taking to grow its robotics clout. After the U.S., Germany continues to be the leading investment destination for Chinese firms wanting advanced technology, intellectual property, and technical know-how.

Now, this is deepening. German automotive supplier Continental AG has formed a strategic agreement with Baidu Inc., China’s leading technology company, to jointly develop self-driving and connected vehicles.

This agreement points to a changing attitude in China. The KUKA acquisition raised alarm bells in Europe over technology sharing and national security. To avoid future concerns, China-based firms (both private and state-run) may be looking to form partnerships in order to gain knowledge.

In the short term, this bodes well for Germany, which can promote its businesses in China. But in the long term, China may learn more than what Germany wants, and Germany’s robotics advantage could become a vulnerability to remaining competitive in the emerging international AI and robot economy.

Drones diversify in India, Russia

For years, attention around aerial drones revolved around two uses: defense and delivery. As AUVSI Xponential demonstrated this past month, businesses are recognizing that drones will play an important role in the future of several sectors, including healthcare and banking.

In India, the state of Gujarat wants to be malaria-free by 2022. To accomplish this, the health minister is calling on the use of drones to monitor “mosquito breeding sites.” In other words, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) could help eradicate disease and improve the quality of life for people in Gujarat.

International AI and drone developments include cash deliveries in Russia.

Russia’s Sberbank wants to use drones to deliver cash.

In addition, Sberbank, the largest bank in Russia, has proposed using drones to deliver cash to customers. Sberbank’s CEO said the bank has already tested this idea. If the delivery box is stolen, then it injects paint, turning the cash into useless paper.

UAVs are different from other types of robots in that they represent a new form of transport for goods — and people. They could democratize logistics by enabling the transport of anything for anyone, anywhere.

Industrial automation has existed for decades, and international AI and self-driving cars are getting a lot of attention right now. But drones could be the robotics-related technology that becomes mainstream or a daily sight in the short term.

AI is the foundation of future weapons

When China announced in 2016 that its future cruise missiles could have intelligence and autonomy built into them, it sent shockwaves in the halls of governments and defense companies. But this isn’t the first international AI defense application to defense.

Back in the 1970s, Russia developed the first missiles with AI, and Moscow is now in the process of upgrading them. These weapons are so advanced that when a ship launches a barrage of 12 or 24 of them, they begin communicating with one other. They can reportedly decide which missiles will “sacrifice themselves” and which will attack.

Once the main target is taken out, the remaining missiles then re-examine the battlefield and communicate further about next targets. They can identify and rank targets based on the threat they pose.

These updated missiles, nicknamed “carrier killers” by NATO, are is yet another sign of how important AI is becoming to military systems. Whether AI is controlling drone swarms, automated warships, or autonomous tanks, its becoming the foundation for future national security.

More on International AI, Drones, and Robotics:

AI fuels relationships

Philippe Couillard, Quebec’s premier, recently wrapped up a week-long visit to Israel. During his trip, he called for many positive changes to the Quebec-Israel relationship. Chief among them was a plan to build an AI and metadata partnership with Israel.

This partnership means several things. First, it again points to Tel Aviv’s success in becoming a global technology hub. Israel already serves as a major investment destination for China and provides high-tech expertise to India.

Quebec’s call for an AI partnership with Israel shortly after the Canadian government unveiled over $100 million to fuel AI research and development is no coincidence. The province has long had secessionist tendencies. Its call for foreign support as Canada allocates funds could mark one of the first instances of international AI being used as a political bargaining chip.

But the biggest question for any countries teaming up to develop robotics or international AI is, at what point does the relationship start benefitting one party more than the other?