How dense the population is Korea
According to the World Robotics Report of the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) from September 2020, South Korea is the country with the second highest density of robots in the world - by far ahead of most other nations - why is that?
The IFR's new World Robotics Report was published on September 24, 2020. As in previous years, South Korea is one of the countries with - by far - the highest density of robots. There are 855 industrial robots for every 10,000 employees in South Korea. More than twice as many as in Japan and eight times the global average. The only country with a higher density is Singapore (918 robots per 10,000 employees) [i].
When you consider that South Korea has a population of over 50 million and Singapore only approximately 5.6 million [ii], that makes the number of robots in South Korea all the more impressive: But how did this come about? And why here?
Source: pixabay via pexels.com
The status quo
South Korea has made automation and robotics part of its strategy to establish itself as a forerunner of the fourth industrial revolution. The population is considered tech-savvy, and in 2016 South Korea produced robots valued at 4.475 trillion won - approximately $ 4.11 billion. Also at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea proudly showed what it is capable of in the field of robotics [iii].
Robots in everyday life
Apart from the widespread industrial robots, which the IFR report is about, and major events such as the Olympic Games, robots can also be found in various places in the everyday life of South Koreans:
Since July 2017, passengers at Seoul Airport have been able to turn to a robot that acts as an airport guide if they have any questions. The approx. 140 cm high robot is able to move independently by navigating with cameras, ultrasound, lasers and sensors. It shows important information on its LCD display and can recognize voices and process speech [iv].
Another example is the use of robots to comply with corona protective measures. For example, a self-driving robot with a camera and LED display welcomes visitors in the lobby of the country's largest mobile operator. It checks the temperature of the visitors and gives an alarm if the limit value of 37.5 ° C is exceeded. It also dispenses disinfectants, disinfects the floors, and uses artificial intelligence to detect clusters of people that it then asks to disintegrate. It also recognizes when visitors are not wearing masks and reminds them of this.
In general, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a positive effect on the spread of technology, as many companies are using it to minimize human contact. This applies to large and small companies [v].
But the trade war between China and the USA is also having an impact on South Korea and its robot industry in particular: Although China is one of the largest buyers of Korean products, the conflict could also lead to Korean products being substituted for Chinese products at home and abroad.
Whether the effects of the trade war on South Korea will be positive or negative remains to be seen, but declining numbers of newly installed robots suggest that South Korea - like many other countries - is in unsafe waters. [Vi]
Government development and support
For a long time it was unlikely that South Korea would take such a pioneering position today: 50 years ago South Korea was one of the poorest countries in the world and suffered from the consequences of the civil war with North Korea. A stark contrast to his current position [vii]. Up until the 1960s, South Korea was poorer than two thirds of the sub-Saharan states; today it is one of the world's most digitized nations with a per capita income higher than that of New Zealand and Portugal [viii].
The government takes action
The fact that a large part of its efforts is focused on robotics is not a new development: South Korea began developing and building robots 35 years ago. Against this background, it is perhaps astonishing that the government only recognized robotics and automation as drivers of growth in 2003 and began to provide corresponding funding.
Then it took until 2008 again for a series of government initiatives such as the “Intelligent Robot Development and Promotion Act” to be published, thus enshrining the national endeavor to build an innovative robotics industry into law.
Other important initiatives are the “Workforce Development and Training Act” and the “Smart Manufacturing Innovation Strategy”, as well as the “Third Robot Basic Plan”, which is renewed every five years [ix]. Since then, the industry has grown an impressive 21% annually.
The Korea Institute for Robot Industry Advancement
Another important step in promoting the industry in 2010 was the establishment of the Korea Institute for Robot Industry Advancement, or KIRIA for short. Its task is to oversee the development of the robotics industry and its promotion. Their tools include ...
- The development of legislation for the industry
- Disseminating relevant information
- The standardization
- The expansion of the infrastructure (e.g. in the form of test facilities)
- The promotion of pilot projects and research projects
The result is that South Korea has established itself as a global pioneer in terms of robot density, although the country still lags behind Japan, Germany and the United States in other areas [x]. One reason for this could be that so far it has mainly been concentrated on its home market and has only started to spread to other countries late [xi]. In 2016, however, South Korea already sold more than 41,000 robots - thus it took second place in the global comparison and sold around half as much as China, whose population is almost 25 times larger [xii].
Necessity and acceptance in the population
But government funding is only one side of the coin: For the integration of robots in everyday life, as is apparently the case in South Korea, the population must also accept the presence and use of robots in many areas of their lives. So how does the average Korean compare to the density of robots? What is your opinion, why new technologies are spreading so quickly in your country?
Myth and Shamanism
There are different answers, which may all be part of the solution: Some attribute the great acceptance of robots - especially humanoid robots - to Korean shamanism: “We can think that any kind of non-human being might have a spiritual or superpower beyond human capacity, whether it is a natural object or artificial object […] ”. [xiii]
The motif of an animal that strives to be something other than it is - a human - can already be found in the genesis of the Kingdom of Korea, where a bear becomes a human through patience and perseverance. Against this background, it is far less disturbing when something non-human acquires human abilities and qualities [xiv]. Maybe do this
Attitude many Koreans less prone to the "Uncanny Valley" (see box).
The so-called "Uncanny Valley" (literally translated: "the uncanny valley") describes a phenomenon in which an avatar or object that imitates the human shape or human characteristics is perceived as disturbing. This effect is most likely to occur when there is a particularly strong but not yet perfect imitation. This can be especially the case if you initially thought the other person was a real person, but then realizes that this is not the case. Further information can be found here: https://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/humanoids/what-is-the-uncanny-valley
Formative experiences and urgent problems
Koreans also mention that they don't have a long history as a country at the forefront of technological developments. That is why there would not be such strong negative associations with science and progress as is the case in countries where scientific achievements have been used for mass destruction: “For us, science is all good things. It creates jobs, it creates convenience. ”[Xv]
This view of science as a whole, and robotics in particular, is also reflected in the position to use technological advances to solve a problem that threatens South Korea's competitiveness in the long term: the aging population. It is estimated that more than a third of the Korean population will be over 65 by 2050 and half of all workers will be over 50. [xvi] So a quick fix is urgently needed.
Robots are supposed to remedy this in two ways: through technology such as collaborative robots and exoskeletons, older workers should be able to perform more physically demanding tasks for longer, if they want, without them overworking. Another idea is to use robots to support people who can no longer cope on their own in everyday life or who are simply lonely. [Xvii]
Source: Bundo Kim via unsplah.com
Not everything is perfect
But it's not like robots are just universally accepted. In South Korea, too, the country with the highest density of robots in the world, there are concerns that automation will put jobs at risk. For this reason there are efforts to raise a tax on robots or to reduce tax incentives for the introduction of robots.
Which plan the government is pursuing with this consideration is not finally clear. It could be both a well-considered plan and a hasty response to an increasingly unstable global situation [xviii].
Last but not least, South Korea could use robots to defend the demilitarized zone on the border with North Korea. The conflict between the two states has been simmering for years. Although the civil war ended with the separation of the country in 1953, tensions continue to arise. This creates great uncertainty. [Xix]
So what is the result of this foray into the world of robotics in South Korea? The facts speak for themselves: South Korea is a country that uses the potential of robotics efficiently to solve its problems and to secure a position at the top of the world.
Not only industrial robots are widespread, but in everyday life you also come across robots in various areas.
The rapid rise and spread of robots can be explained by three factors in particular:
- Government support and funding since the beginning of the new millennium
- The acceptance of the population thanks to positive connotations and an "immunity" to the Uncanny Valley
- The necessity in the face of the challenges South Korea is facing.
Despite declining numbers of new industrial robot installations in South Korea, robotics and automation remain important areas of the Korean economy. They continue to enjoy government support. Despite the widespread acceptance or at least indifference of many Koreans towards the use of robots, there are also critical voices. It remains to be seen how the situation will develop in the future.
Where should it go?
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[i] IFR (September 24, 2020): “World Robotics Report 2020”, https://ifr.org/downloads/press2018/Presentation_WR_2020.pdf, p. 17.
[ii] Worldbank (2020): “People”, https://datatopics.worldbank.org/world-development-indicators/themes/people.html#featured-indicators_1.
[iii] Prakash, Abishur (February 20, 2018): “During the 2018 Winter Olympics, South Korean Robots Reflect the Geopolitics of Technology”, https://www.roboticsbusinessreview.com/regional/during-the-2018-winter- olympics-south-korean-robot-reflect-the-geopolitics-of-technology /.
[iv] Babe, Ann (December 6, 2017): "Why South Korea is an ideal breeding ground for robots", https://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20171205-why-south-korea-is- an-ideal-breeding-ground-for-robots.
[v] Shin, Hyonhee (June 1, 2020): “Armed with disenfactant and admonishments, South Korean robot fights coronavirus spread”, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-southkorea-robots- idUSKBN23816M.
[vi] Tao, May (February 3, 2020): “South Korea reaches new record of 300,000 industrial robots in operation”, https://roboticsandautomationnews.com/2020/02/03/south-korea-reaches-new-record -of-300000-industrial-robots-in-operation / 29454.
[vii] Shteyngart, Gary (June, 2017): “A Visit to Seoul Brings Our Writer Face-to-Face With the Future of Robots”, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/visit-seoul-writer- future-robots-180963238 /.
[viii] Asian Robotics Review: “Korea Awakens, Reacts… and Accelerates. Economic urgency spurs demand for advanced manufacturing robots ”, https://asianroboticsreview.com/korea-2-html.
[ix] Tao, May (February 3, 2020): “South Korea reaches new record of 300,000 industrial robots in operation”, https://roboticsandautomationnews.com/2020/02/03/south-korea-reaches-new-record -of-300000-industrial-robots-in-operation / 29454 /
[x] Asian Robotics Review: “Korea Awakens, Reacts… and Accelerates. Economic urgency spurs demand for advanced manufacturing robots ”, https://asianroboticsreview.com/korea-2-html.
[xi] Prakash, Abishur (November 01, 2016): "South Korea Redefines Asian Robotics Relationships", https://www.roboticsbusinessreview.com/research/south-korea-redefines-asian-robotics-relationships/.
[xiii] Babe, Ann (December 6, 2017): “Why South Korea is an ideal breeding ground for robots”, https://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20171205-why-south-korea-is- an-ideal-breeding-ground-for-robots.
[xiv] Babe, Ann (December 6, 2017): "Why South Korea is an ideal breeding ground for robots", https://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20171205-why-south-korea-is- an-ideal-breeding-ground-for-robots.
[xv] Shteyngart, Gary (June, 2017): “A Visit to Seoul Brings Our Writer Face-to-Face With the Future of Robots”, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/visit-seoul-writer- future-robots-180963238 /.
[xvi] IFR (December 12, 2019): “Korea hits new record of 300,000 indsutrial robots in operation. Korea doubled operational stock within 5 years ”, https://ifr.org/ifr-press-releases/news/korea-hits-new-record.
[xvii] Shteyngart, Gary (June, 2017): “A Visit to Seoul Brings Our Writer Face-to-Face With the Future of Robots”, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/visit-seoul-writer- future-robots-180963238 /.
[xviii] Prakash, Abishur (August 18, 2017): “Robotics & Geopolitics: Job Fears Prompt Teamsters to Take on Self-Driving Trucks; Russia Touts AI Missiles ”, https://www.roboticsbusinessreview.com/manufacturing/job-fears-prompt-teamsters-take-self-driving-trucks-russia-touts-ai-missiles/.
[xix] Babe, Ann (December 6, 2017): “Why South Korea is an ideal breeding ground for robots”, https://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20171205-why-south-korea-is- an-ideal-breeding-ground-for-robots.
Photo: rawkkim on Unsplash
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