Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Robot World 2009. The South Korean Robotics exhibition

This is an article I wrote for an Northamerican journal after I returned from South Korea:


Robot World 2009

The South Korean Robotics exhibition


In 2003 South Korea, a country located between China and Japan, identified the intelligent robot industry as one of its new growth industries. Since then the efforts of this country has made possible to include Korea in the list of the ten most advanced countries in the area of intelligent robotics. In fact, the objective of this country is to be the most important developer of intelligent robots in the world by next decade.  

The exhibition


This year we attended the fourth edition of Robot World, one of the most important robotics exhibition events in Asia, where more than 100.000 visitors came to the city of Busan at South Korea to see the most advanced developments of this country.  More than 60 companies and research organizations participated in this event, than combined an expo area, a robot competition and a conference congress.


The interesting thing of this exhibition was the presence of robots for very different applications, from industrial robots, to educational robots, not forgetting other applications like military, social, disability, civil, entertainment or medical. Also the presence of Universities, R&D institutions and companies gave a wide offer between the state of the art robotics and more commercial solutions.

The robots


One of the robots that most surprised us was the quadruped from Kitech (Korea Institute of Industrial Technology), that seemed to be a version of the BigDog from Boston Dynamics. This four legged robot was designed to walk on rough terrain mainly for payload transport.

quadruped from Kitech

Kitech also showed their Korean singer woman robot and other wheeled robots for home duties.

Korean singer woman

In the same way as the quadruped from Kitech was the development of the quadruped from the Pohang Institute of Intelligent Robotics called PQ1-PIRO for research purpose in dynamic walking. Previous researches on dynamic walking of quadruped robots have used only walking pattern called central pattern generator (CPG). In this research, different from walking generation with only CPG, a instinctive stability measure called landing accordance ratio, is used for increasing dynamic stability. In addition, dynamic balance control and control to adjust walking trajectory for increasing dynamic stability measure is also used in this robot.

PQ1-PIRO

The Pohang institute also showed their research in underwater autonomous cleaning robots (Piro-U2), capable of working at 10m depth and able to clean 100 tons of dust per hour. This 300 kg robot use underwater cameras for the autonomous navigation.

Piro-U2

Another development of the Pohang Institute was Popo, a wheeled humanoid with a cat like face for museums, and other public events where the robot could be a point of information for the visitors. With its interactive screen, the visitors could see where they are, what to visit and get more information of any activities in the venue.

Popo

The Center for Cognitive Robotics Research (an area of KIST, Korea Institute of Science and Technology) showed their humanoid Mahru III, a walking robot that is an evolution of other previous versions. Every hour there was a demonstration of the robot walking and interacting with people.

Mahru III

Also we saw demonstrations of the Mahru-M, that is a wheeled version able to prepare the breakfast for its human pals. Very interesting when we wake up lazy on a Sunday morning.

humanoid Mahru-M from KIST

KETI (Korea Electronics Technology Institute) showed several of their developments, like the humanoid Kebox still in development, the service robot Kebo, or a wheelchair able of climbing stairs.

Kebox from Keti
Kebo from Keti
wheelchair from Keti
Other interesting wheelchair was the one from Ntrex company, that used omnidirectional wheels. This kind of wheels allowed the driver to move in any direction by the use of a unique joystick.

wheelchair from Ntrex
Robotech company showed their small Life Care robot Hali and the human sized PGR-4, an information service robot that we found also in a museum at South Korea. The main difference we found in this robot was the possibility of using two screens: One at the chest and another optional one over the head. This last was more or less in front of the eyes of the human user. This 95kg robot uses a PC Core 2 Duo platform with windows XP. Like the roomba cleaning robots, this robot could find its charge unit and take a breath of electricity when batteries become exhausted.


PGR-4 and Hali from Robotech

We found many other information service and telepresence robots offered by other Korean companies in this event. This shows an increasing interest in this area.

In a professional service area we found some interesting fire fighting remotely controlled vehicles. Hyundai Rotem company showed a couple of quite large fire fighting platforms prepared for fires where firemen have difficult access.  As well DRBFatec showed some medium size robots for the same purpose.

Hyundai Rotem

DRBFatec
Additionally they were companies developing the more common robots seen everywere, like educational and entertainment robots, floor cleaning robots, and parts, like motors, sensors and all this stuff.

In summary they were more than 60 Korean companies and other research institutions showing their last researches and products. A window to the state of the art in that country.

The contest


We also attended the IRC 2009, the international robot contest organized by Kitech as part of the same event.

It was a four days contest where 3.000 teams with 6.000 participants demonstrated their abilities in the eight competitions:

·         Grand Challenge (Performing missions),
·         Robotpiad (cleaning robot competition),
·         Humanoid (Fighting, Dance, Survival, Basketball, Skill Performance, Curling, Obstacle, Relay),
·         Intelligent SoC Robot War (SoC Tank Robot: A game in which tank robots attack enemies through an image recognition system with laser cannons, SoC Taekwon Robot: Two-legged humanoids attack each other using Taekwondo moves through an image recognition system),
·         FIRA challenge Cup (Football game of robots made in same form),
·         Robot festival (Line-tracer and other competitions for collegian),
·         Robot Olympiad and
·         Busan Robot Contest (Exhibiting and evaluating family-made robots)




It was really incredible to see the amount of small children participating in this kind of contests with very advanced robots. This is due to the education at schools in Korea, where they learn robotics as part of their ordinary education.

Conclusions


South Korea, a country that used to be far away from the technology is becoming one of the most advanced countries as technology producer, mainly in the area of robotics. This country is betting for the technology as a top priority driver for their future. They take care of the education, the research institutions, the technology transfer between universities and companies and the relationship between companies. Korea is preparing a very fast growth in this area that will undoubtedly surprise us sooner than we expect. Stay tuned.

Alejandro Alonso-Puig
Quark Robotics
www.quarkrobotics.com

Robot World website: http://www.robotworld.or.kr/

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