Geopolitics is a mix of cooperation and competition, and the world of automation is no different. Some countries pursue partnerships, such as in the India-Israel fund and other robotics and artificial intelligence deals described below. In other cases, governments should be wary of robot cybersecurity risks, which could lead to remote hacking through robots.
Robotics Business Review has partnered with Abishur Prakash at Center for Innovating the Future to provide its readers with cutting-edge insights into recent developments in international robotics, artificial intelligence, and unmanned systems. Are you ready to be updated?
Brazil sees renewed interest from foreign robotics firms
Robotics development: Siemens recently said it plans to invest 1 billion euros ($1.14 billion U.S.) over the next five years in Brazil. The money will go to strategic areas, including automation and digitalization initiatives.
The announcement by Siemens demonstrates that Brazil’s economy is beginning to recover and that foreign investment is restarting.
Geopolitical significance: For years, the world questioned whether Brazil would live up to its expectations.
It is a member of the BRICS grouping of nations — Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa — populous nations with emerging economies.
While India and China grew, Brazil seemed to slow down. Now things are changing, and robotics may be a sign of what’s to come for Brazil’s economy.
This isn’t the first time Siemens has invested in Brazil’s robotics scene. In June 2017, as a political crisis took hold of the country, an executive in Siemens Brazil said the company was executing a “master plan project.”
Its objective was to insulate Siemens from political risk in Brazil by automating more and more processes through robotics process automation (RPA). In other words, instead of exiting Brazil, Siemens doubled down, through automation.
The automotive industry in Brazil is also integrating more Industry 4.0 technologies. In one plant, Wi-Fi transmitters on robot arms are communicating with one another, sharing data and information.
Brazil is also pitching its technical know-how to other countries. Four agriculture startups from Brazil plan to participate in an incubator program in India. These startups offer a range of technologies, including AI and remote sensing.
However, it isn’t all bright lights for Brazil’s robotics scene. Last summer, Baidu ended its operations in Brazil, saying it would handle Brazil’s operations from China.
And according to a new index of automation rankings, Brazil placed 39 out of 44 nations.
While robotics firms thinking about expanding into Brazil may want to wait for some more time, the investment by Siemens and accompanying developments show that there is activity in Brazil’s robotics landscape. And this may be the first rumblings of Brazil’s resurgence as it seeks to become a global power.
Robot cybersecurity needs to be on government agendas
Robotics development: A team of researchers at Brown University have conducted a study of how vulnerable certain robots are. They searched the Internet for robots using the open-source Robot Operating System. The team found more than 100 robots that it said could be hacked.
Geopolitical significance: As the number of robots deployed around the world grows, robotics firms and governments must take cybersecurity more seriously. If these robots become the new workforce of nations and aren’t protected, they could become targets for hackers.
The Brown University study isn’t the first one to look at robots and cybersecurity. In 2017, cybersecurity firm IOActive reported that many popular robots from SoftBank, Universal Robots, and Rethink Robotics had issues with authentication, which could allow hackers to control certain parts of the robot.
Also last year, Israeli firm Check Point Software Technologies found that it could hack into the LG SmartThinQ app and access the camera in LG’s robot vacuum cleaner. Ironically, robots could hack other robots in the future.
More recently, in March, IOActive conducted a ransomware attack on a Nao robot from SoftBank Robotics. Researchers were able to install ransomware to make the robot say threatening things, demand Bitcoin, and display adult content. The attack could have also stolen data.
During the 2018 Def Con cybersecurity conference in the U.S., a team from the University of Nevada showed off a robot that could insert a USB stick into a computer and then hack the computer.
This opens up the prospect of remote espionage, in which foreign powers or competing companies could hack into robots, shut them off, or mess with their code to make them act in ways other than intended. Some governments are already taking steps to address this.
Japan this month released a new cybersecurity strategy that seeks to provide “end-to-end” security for all Internet-connected devices. This would likely include robots.
Japan previously proposed setting up “decoy networks” to lure hackers and acquire information on their intentions and location.
But Japan is one of a handful of countries thinking this way. Unless more governments take similar steps, the next major hack might not be of a nuclear enrichment facility via Stuxnet but of hundreds of thousands of vulnerable robots operating around the world.
India-Israel fund takes tech relationship to new heights
Robotics development: The Israel-India Industrial R&D and Technological Innovation Fund (I4F) has announced its first project. This India-Israel fund will provide $40 million for joint projects over the next five years. They revolve around energy, fresh water, connectivity, and surgical devices. The I4F fund was launched in 2017.
Geopolitical significance: As the India-Israel fund promises to take this international relationship o the next level, technology is playing the biggest role. When Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, visited India in January, he said “technology is the way forward” for the two countries.
One of the main areas of India-Israel cooperation is agriculture. A few months after Netanyahu visited India, an Indian official called for Israeli robotics in Indian agriculture.
In 2016, Ecoppia, an Israeli firm that makes robot cleaners for solar panels, said it was building a plant in Chennai, India.
Last summer, India-based Telrad Tech partnered with Israel’s Zebra Medical Vision to bring advanced healthcare AI to countries across Asia and Africa.
Such deals don’t only affect Israel and India. In February, Indian-Americans prepared several initiatives to foster cooperation between India, Israel, and the U.S.
However, since the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Israel last year, technology deals between the two countries have picked up speed, specifically around AI.
In April, Israeli firm Cortica partnered with India’s Best Group to bring surveillance and crowd monitoring AI to Indian government agencies.
In June, Indian Railways said it was buying AI from Israel to protect its trains and strengthen security.
In the same month, Accenture, the Israeli consulate to South India, and NASSCOM, the largest technology association in India, partnered to bring together Israeli and Indian startups — including in AI and automation.
The strengthening technology relationship demonstrated by the India-Israel fund and these other deals is an example of how foreign policy can influence robotics businesses. By strengthening ties with India, Israeli robotics and AI firms have a brand-new market to access. Nations looking to give their automation sector an edge should take a page of out of Israel’s playbook.
Editor’s Note: Abishur Prakash will be speaking about the political and economic considerations of implementing automation at the Chief Robotics Officer (CRO) Summit at RoboBusiness 2018 next month in Santa Clara, Calif. Register now to attend!