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Robots to teach, fight fire in pilot projects

Robots will be deployed for education, fire-fighting, sewage repairs and manufacturing this year in a series of pilot projects aimed at nurturing robotics as the country’s key growth industry.

Next year will see robots patrol danger zones, remove mines in the DMZ and do farm work, according to government-led plans unveiled Thursday.

Seven ministries involving industry, education and the environment announced a master plan to inject 100 billion won ($90 million) into developing and utilizing service and industrial robots until 2013.

“This pan-governmental plan will be a stepping stone for Korean developers to play a leading role in the coming era of robotics revolution,” said Cho Seok, director-general of growth engines at the Ministry of Knowledge Economy.

The ministries will also establish related policies and regulations and speed up the standardization of software and technological platforms for the fledgling industry.

Korea is the world’s fourth-largest robot producer controlling about 10 percent of total global sales as of 2009. The government aims to increase the share to 20 percent by 2018.

The ministry expects the pilot projects will help speed up development and commercial production, induce more private investment and craft promising business models.

The country has been supporting the fledgling robotics industry with 75 billion won of investment since 2002. But, it said, the funds were mostly channeled into research and development, with only 10 billion won spent on utilization.

Under the latest plan, the government will conduct up to 10 pilot projects this year in education, water supply, fire-fighting and small- and medium-scale manufacturing. It will allocate 15 billion won to the programs.

The range of projects will be widened to include defense, medical care and agriculture next year, the ministry said.

Another 15 billion won is allocated for private demonstration programs and overseas test-bed facilities that can open up opportunities for technology and product exports.

The state-run Korea Institute for Robot Industry Advancement will take project proposals from Jan. 31 through March 18.

Korea trails Japan, Germany and the U.S. in the global robots industry, which is estimated at $9.4 billion in 2008 and is expected to grow to $100 billion in 2018, according to the Frankfurt-based International Federation of Robotics.

The mainstay of the high value-added industry is transitioning to service robots that help with household and office chores and other various professional tasks including surgery, navigation, milking, teaching, demining and military patrol operations.

The ministry introduced a comprehensive package in December to fund 30 billion won for their commercialization, standardization and marketing over the next seven years.

It conducted six-month pilot projects until December with about 2.1 billion won of subsidy for 11 consortiums led by Samsung Techwin, Nautilus Hyosung, the Korea Institute of Science and Technology, Kwangwoon University and others.
By Shin Hyon-hee (