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Korea Bets on Robotics for the Elderly

Spire Research

Robots are about to take over – not just in the factory but also in the home. South Korea is already ranked fourth in the deployment of industrial robots worldwide, but it will soon join the ranks of countries like Japan and China, where household robots have become common. The 2015 International CES hosted two robotics companies from South Korea – Yujin Robot and Future Robot Co. Ltd.  South Korea is on track to have the world’s largest stock of robots by 2016 - 201,700 units, both industrial and non-industrial. Robot Land – a theme park with rides as well as R&D labs, built at a cost of KRW758 billion (roughly USD 700 million), is set for a grand opening in 2016. To support the robotics industry Korea’s government plans to spend KRW7 trillion (approximately USD 6.3 billion) by 2018.
Korea’s robotics industry has seen a two-fold increase in size since 2009, with revenue reaching KRW2.1 trillion (roughly USD 2 billion) in 2012.   Over 600 domestic robot companies operate in Korea, employing more than 34,000 people. These investments have made Korea one of the most dynamic robot markets in the world.
Why the focus on the silver market? Demography provides the answer. Korea is home to six million people above the age of 65. This segment will grow to eight million by 2020. And robot manufacturers are hearing the siren-song of unmet needs.
GoCart – a Korean-made robot - started distributing meals in elder care facilities in the U.S. from October 2014. The GoCart deployment is a partnership between Korean robot manufacturer Yujin Robot, Swedish food transport manufacturer Scanbox and American Horst – a 120 year old retirement community-building company. Gocart is able to map its environment with sensors and cameras, so as to function independently in an elder-friendly environment.
Some robots incorporate existing devices such as Galaxy Tab’ and Ipads mounted on a peripheral structure. For instance, household robot Furo- I, launched by Korea’s Future Robot, has been adorned with a parrot-shaped controller operated by a large, detachable touchscreen tablet. It can move around the house without colliding with obstacles by following pre-determined paths.
Another robot called iRobi caters to autistic children and older people. This resulted from a partnership between New Zealand’s Auckland University and the Korean Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute.
However, there is still hesitation about surrendering too much control to artificial intelligence. Some factors that deter consumers from purchasing robots include total expenditure and technical faults. As a result, industry players are unable to generate enough sales volume, leading to an unhealthy reliance on government funding for research and development initiatives.
Nonetheless, it is a matter of time before a household robot manufacturer hits the performance versus pricing sweet spot. And it would be foolish to bet against Korea in this race.
Authored by the following researchers from Spire Research: Dr. Justin Lee, Tanushree Mukherjee, Leon Perera, and James Wilcox 

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