July 04, 2017      

Taiwan is already a leader in semiconductor manufacturing, but can government investment and multinational partnerships help the country be a robotics leader? In my previous article, we looked at how Taiwanese companies and service robots are part of that nation’s automation strategy; now let’s look at robotics R&D.

Robotics research and development in Taiwan is supported by the government’s Technology Development Program (TDP), which has contributed over $10.1 million between 2011 and 2016 to fund ongoing efforts to advance the depth of industrial technologies and create innovative technologies.

“Based on Taiwan’s economic and strategic location and its advantages in R&D, the government is proactively encouraging domestic and overseas enterprises to set up R&D centers in Taiwan,” stated the Taiwan Ministry of Economic Affairs.

Meanwhile, the ministry has implemented “Productivity 4.0,” a program that will spend a total of more than $1.12 billion across nine years to raise Taiwan’s status in global markets through the deployment of advanced machine tools supporting metal processing, consumer electronics, food, health care, logistics, and agricultural businesses.

Robotics-related technologies included in the program include precision machinery, intelligent control, digital design, human-machine coordination, and knowledge-feedback technologies.

Business Takeaways:

  • In addition to industrial automation, Taiwan is looking to maintain its technical leadership through robotics R&D.
  • Areas of focus at Taiwanese labs include artificial intelligence, human-machine interaction, and computer vision.
  • Taiwan is working with enterprises and international partners and is investing more than $300 million to become an “Asian Silicon Valley.”

Taiwan develops machine vision

One of Taiwan’s most promising robotics R&D organizations is the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI), which demonstrated a pair of innovative technologies at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

ITRI’s Intelligent Vision System is designed to allow robots to interpret the visual world, act on visual information, and learn from experiences. According to ITRI, the system enables a robot to adapt to changing conditions and act accordingly.

Unlike most current robots, which are generally programmed to repeatedly perform a specific task at a specific time and location, robots equipped with the Intelligent Vision System can change their behavior and perform tasks based on random events and requirements, said the ITRI.

During the CES demonstration, ITRI showed a robot that was able to distinguish between various chess pieces and their locations. The robot was also able to tell the difference between different types of coffee cups, their locations, and fill levels.

ITRI pointed out that the same intelligence could be used in numerous industrial-automation and Industry 4.0 applications. A robot equipped with its system could, for instance, detect the size and position of items for automated loading and unloading applications.

ITRI also took advantage of its CES presentation to showcase its Remotely-Operated Autonomous Drone (ROAD; shown above). ROAD can be operated remotely anywhere in the world via an LTE cellular connection, according to ITRI. The system is smart enough to know when it needs to fly away from areas without LTE coverage.

ROAD features three control channels — cellular network, 2.4 GHz remote control and 915 MHz long-range telemetry. It also includes emergency handover between control channels and an emergency landing capability.

An intelligent multiple-flight fleet management system integrates drone flight data and three streaming cameras. The system also allows the user to select the drone to control and simultaneously displays the positions of all drones on a map.

NTU is hub for robotics R&D

While it may lack ITRI’s Vegas pizzazz, National Taiwan University (NTU) has become a hub of Taiwanese advanced robotics research and education over the past several years. The university’s International Center of Excellence on Intelligent Robotics and Automation Research (NTU-iCeiRA) is sponsored by Taiwan’s Ministry of Science and Technology under its MOST I-RiCE program. It aims to create a basic robotics research infrastructure as well as training facilities.

Taiwan political map and robotics R&D

NTU-iCeiRA cooperates with several world-class institutes and universities, including the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), the French National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control (INRIA), and the Universite Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC).

NTU-iCeiRA focuses on research in core technologies, including cognitive robotics and intelligent automation, with a special emphasis on intelligent robot integrated manufacturing automation. Other robotics R&D areas include learning and adaptation; modeling, analysis and simulation; control and planning; perception; and human-computer interaction.

A key NTU-iCeiRA project is the development of a semantic map that robots could someday use to correlate knowledge of objects and scenes to a precise location, establishing a relationship between the local environment and objects. The technology is based on the open-source Robot Operating System (ROS).

NTU also operates an Intelligent Robot Lab, which conducts robotics R&D around computer vision, autonomous systems, and human-robot interaction.

Yet another lab, the NTU Robotics Laboratory, focuses on turning theoretical research concepts into functional robotic technologies and systems. The lab’s objective is to develop an array of industrial, commercial, and biomedical technologies.

Examples include AI-powered robots, remote maintenance and diagnosis platforms, and micro/nano manipulation and assembly systems. The lab is also working on prosthetics, electromyography (EMG) signal processing/recognition, and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) based on system-on-a-chip (SoC) technology.

NTU’s Robotics Laboratory works with numerous Taiwanese and international companies, such as the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), Ford, Yulong Motor, and Leadway Machinery.

The lab also participates in technical projects with Taiwan’s National Science Council, the Ministry of Education, the ITRI, the China Textile Research Center and the Taiwan Industry Development Bureau.

More on Robotics R&D Worldwide:

Targeting the future

As it looks toward the future, Taiwans government has announced plans to allocate $358 million during 2017 to help build what it describes as the “Asian Silicon Valley,” an area in which robotics developers are expected to play a key role.

The Taiwan National Development Council (NDC) expects that, with both government and industry encouragement, a new IT-and robotics-focused zone near Taipei will reach maturation by 2023.

This year’s NDC funding has been designated to pay for an enhanced Internet infrastructure, mobile broadband services and various industry-university collaboration activities. This year’s Computex Taipei trade show also focused on innovative technologies, including AI and robotics R&D.

“Although Taiwan played an important role in the computer and Internet technologies that shaped communications and fueled the third industrial revolution, it still manufactures mostly low value-added products,” the NDC stated last September. “Now that the fourth industrial revolution is underway, Taiwan must catch up by restructuring its industries.”