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SoftBank Robotics enters Korean market

Company aims to seize lead with autonomous cleaning robots

SoftBank Robotics’ autonomous cleaning robot Whiz operating in an office setting (SoftBank Robotics)
SoftBank Robotics’ autonomous cleaning robot Whiz operating in an office setting (SoftBank Robotics)

SoftBank Robotics announced Tuesday it will launch operations in South Korea with its artificial intelligence-enabled vacuum-cleaning robot Whiz.

The company aims to take the lead in the assistive robotics market here, which is currently led by LG Electronics.

Whiz is the Japanese firm’s second robot which was commercialized in May last year. The model, designed for commercial settings, is equipped with image sensors that allow autonomous driving and is connected to the cloud system, which enables remote control of multiple robot units.

“We currently aim to accelerate expansion overseas to capitalize on the increasing demand in the assistive robotics market. Our office in Korea is a strategic location to achieve that,” said Kim Dong-hyup, business development director of SoftBank Robotics’ subsidiary here.

Global sales of autonomous cleaning robots are expected to mark 25 percent growth in 2020 to reach $291 million, according to the Korea Institute for Robot Industry Advancement, quoting a report by the International Federation of Robotics.

The think tank added that growth could be accelerated when population aging speeds up, which can potentially lead to a manpower shortage and decline in productivity.

In Korea, however, the market for autonomous cleaning robots is in a nascent stage. There are very few companies that have developed large-sized autonomous cleaning robots for commercial settings, according to industry sources.

LG Electronics is taking initiatives in the assistive robotics market. In 2017, it tested autonomous cleaning and guide robots. Their commercialization has not yet been decided, according to a company official.

SoftBank Robotics’ regional office is expected to first secure partner companies that will purchase units to increase sales here. The price for the cleaning robot solution will be officially announced in September this year, the company said.

The company posted 10,000 cumulative sales of Whiz as of end-June, in the US, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and Japan.

Whiz is mainly used in large commercial areas. Company sales account for 54 percent, and those by hotels account for 27 percent.

SoftBank Robotics added that there is an increase in demand from hospitals, which now focus more on sanitizing their medical facilities and minimizing face-to-face contact.

Sales of Whiz to hospitals currently account for 4 percent.

By Shim Woo-hyun (ws@heraldcorp.com)



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