November 28, 2016      

From semiconductors to smartphones, South Korea is already a major player in a wide range of industrial and consumer technologies. The nation has been working to ramp up its presence in another area, investing in South Korea robots and automation.

Last October, South Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy announced that it would support the growth of local robotics firms in several different ways. The ministry plans to increase South Korea robot demand through the use of more service robots in the public sector and the development of smart factories.

South Korea’s government also intends to select numerous research centers and businesses for the development and deployment of advanced robots.

In addition, the ministry said it will create institutes to conduct research into humanoid robots and launch programs to ensure a steady supply of high-quality components for South Korean robotics.

Business takeaways:

  • The South Korea robots industry is benefiting from government support, which aims to maintain the nation’s lead in global automation.
  • The Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy plans to provide millions of dollars between now and 2020.
  • In addition to South Korea robots for manufacturing and logistics, the government is promoting R&D into autonomous vehicles and social robots for healthcare.

Targeting South Korea robots manufacturers

As it sets its ambitious growth plans, South Korea can leverage the resources of a large and rapidly expanding robotics base. The country is already a major and enthusiastic adopter of industrial automation.

According to an International Federation of Robotics study, South Korea is the world’s second-largest market for industrial robots, leading Japan and trailing only China. In 2015, the number of industrial robot units sold in South Korea grew by 55 percent.

Japan, meanwhile, posted only 20 percent growth. Along with Singapore and Japan, South Korea is a leader among global economies for robot density in manufacturing. Given a stable economic environment, both Korea and Japan are expected experience an average annual growth of five percent in robot sales from 2016 to 2019, according to the IFR.

South Korea robots are leaders, such as Hubo, which won last year's DARPA Robotics Challenge.

South Korea’s Hubo won last year’s DARPA Robotics Challenge.

To encourage the adoption of automation, the Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy has scheduled 20 pilot projects for the next two years, focusing on the deployment of advanced manufacturing robots.

The ministry is currently in the process of tracking down businesses that are already operating smart factories and that are willing and able to adopt robot-based manufacturing processes.

On the public sector front, the ministry is preparing to launch up to 80 pilot projects between now and 2020 targeting service robots for medical rehabilitation, autonomous transport, and other functions.

The ministry is also selecting corporate research centers to become test beds for South Korea robots. To further this effort, over 100 billion won ($85 million) will be devoted to the initiative until 2020. The goal is the development of 20 or more new types of manufacturing-focused robots.

Most of the South Korean government’s planned humanoid robot institutes are likely to be established within academic research facilities.

In addition, South Korea wants to ensure that South Korean robotics and automation providers have fast access to high-quality parts such as controllers, motors, and speed reducers — and to lessen the nation’s need to rely on global suppliers. To that end, the ministry is planning to invest 350 billion won ($298 million) in domestic component research and development.

More About South Korean Robots:

A strong support base

As the government, private industry, and academia join forces to advance the global presence of South Korea robots, they can take advantage of a growing number of robotics-focused organizations.

Among the groups that can provide a foundation of technical and marketing support are the Korea Robotics Society, the Korea Institute for Robot Industry Advancement, the Korea Association of Robot Industry, and the Institute of Control, Robotics, and Systems.

“The robot industry has emerged as a new technology frontier that will give a fresh boost to the manufacturing sector,” said Trade Minister Joo Hyung-hwan. “The government will fully support the businesses’ investment into research and development in a bid to help the industry grow as a new export leader.”

In my next article, we’ll examine how academia and the healthcare industry are working together in South Korea, where robotics is advancing faster than outsiders may realize.