Why is South Korea an ideal breeding ground for robots?


South Korea’s Incheon Airport recently installed robotic airport guides to assist passengers PHOTO/LG Electronics

Tech-savvy, community-minded and intensely pragmatic, Koreans might be more eager than many markets to view artificial intelligence as part of the solution, not the problem.

At Incheon International Airport (ICN), outside South Korea’s capital Seoul, a team of congenial staff will help you find your boarding gate or escort you to the nearest lounge. They’re well trained, well behaved and quadrilingual to boot – but they’re not so good at small talk. That’s because they’re robots.

The robotic airport guides, developed by Korean tech titan LG Electronics, have been working alongside human employees since the end of July 2017. Standing 1.4m tall, they move autonomously on a wheelbase, display an LCD information screen and navigate using cameras and ultrasonic, laser and edge sensors. They can also recognise voice and process language.

They’re not the only robots to be making headlines in South Korea, as the country prepares to host the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics from 9-25 February in the north-eastern city of Pyeongchang.

Others include Hankook Mirae Technology’s towering Method-2, proclaimed to be the world’s first manned bipedal robot, and DRC-HUBO, a humanoid robot with transformer capabilities, created by the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and 2015 winner of the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) Robotics Challenge. LG has also developed another airport robot, a cleaner that uses mapping and obstacle-avoidance technology to calculate the most efficient pathways and keep the space sparkling.

Robots and related solutions are not just new gadgets, but key technologies to support humans

South Korea, along with its easterly neighbour Japan, has for many years been known for its cutting-edge intelligent designs, having already deployed robotic teachers, industrial manufacturing workers and service staff. Together, they make up a futuristic workforce where autonomous devices are stepping in to fill human roles.

“In our view, artificial intelligence, robots and related solutions are not just new gadgets, but key technologies to support humans,” said Jae-myoung Hong, senior engineer in LG’s Smart Solutions Division. “In some cases, robots may perform jobs that are too dangerous or too complicated for regular workers.”

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