On December 14th 2023, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy convened a strategic meeting chaired by Minister Moon-kyu Bang to address the future trajectory of the domestic advanced robot industry. The ministry unveiled the "Advanced Robot Industry Vision and Strategy," designed to catalyze the burgeoning robot sector into a formidable growth driver, responding adeptly to demographic shifts while elevating industry productivity.
The realm of advanced robots holds promise not only for traditional manufacturing domains like automobiles and shipbuilding but also extends to emerging sectors such as defense, space, aviation, and services. To secure global-level technological capabilities and establish the K-robot economy as a new growth engine, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy outlined three pivotal strategies:
Securing the Core Competitiveness of Advanced Robots
Firstly, by 2023, more than three trillion KRW (2.31 billion USD) will be invested through public-private joint efforts. The focus will be on augmenting competitiveness in technology, personnel, and companies. Initial steps involve securing eight core technologies, encompassing five hardware (H/W) components: reducer, servo motor, gripper, sensor, and controller; and three software (S/W) technologies: autonomous mobility software, autonomous operation software, and HRI.There are plans to formulate a technology development roadmap in the initial half of the upcoming year to propel this initiative. Additionally, efforts will be directed towards cultivating skilled professionals at the forefront of the advanced robot industry, aiming to train over 15,000 individuals linked to the mobility sector, including future vehicles and drones. This includes the development of global research capabilities such as global joint R&D initiatives and youth exchange programs, among other initiatives. Moreover, the fostering of over 30 intelligent robot-specialized companies with revenues exceeding 100 billion KRW (76.92 million USD) is envisaged.
A Global Expansion of K-Robot
Secondly, the government aims to significantly increase the widespread adoption of robots across diverse industries including manufacturing, logistics, welfare, and safety by distributing over one million units by 2030. This ambitious plan seeks to enhance productivity and mitigate accident rates, contributing both industrially and socially. To support local robot companies in establishing a solid presence in the domestic market and facilitating their entry into the global market, the government will also strengthen collaboration between relevant jurisdictions and actively back international certifications. This involves joining the global supply chain by expanding global robot centers from one to five locations and establishing K-robot training centers in Southeast Asia and other regions. Furthermore, there will be stronger cooperation with both domestic and international robot certification bodies, including Europe (CE), USA (UL), and China (CCIC). This initiative also includes an increase in domestic testing and certification alternatives, along with technical and cost support.
Fostering an Infrastructure Favorable to Advanced Robotics
Thirdly, a complete overhaul of the Intelligent Robot Act will establish a new foundation to support technological advancements and industry changes. This includes an expanded backing for components like parts and software, and fostering collaboration across various government departments. Ongoing initiatives will focus on improving regulations for 51 robots across crucial domains—mobility, safety, collaboration, and infrastructure. Additionally, a proactive regulatory framework will be established to prepare for the integration of robots into daily life, coupled with the introduction of robot-specific insurance plans and security threat response guidelines, both slated for 2024. Safety measures will be intensified through a strengthened safety management system for robots and the implementation of an accident history management system. The improvement of robot users' safety will be supported through emergency control technologies such as collision prevention, motion restriction, and risk assessment-reduction technologies.
A substantial investment of 200 billion KRW (153.85 million USD) will be allocated to build a national robot test field, ensuring that developed robots adhere to safety and reliability standards aligned with market and public expectations. Regional infrastructure will be expanded through projects that integrate the regional core industry with robotics, alongside the creation of a platform for collaboration between large and medium-sized SI companies and small SI companies. Efforts will be made towards a formation of social consensus in response to the proliferation of robots, involving launching robot ethics guidelines, promoting "Robot Day”, and hosting a national robot challenge in 2024.
Eleven organizations, spanning robot manufacturing companies, component companies, and supporting entities, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to foster mutual cooperation and cultivate an ecosystem for the advanced robot industry. Commitments were made to foster collaboration in joint research and development (R&D), market creation, and standardization. Key attendees include representatives from robot manufacturing and component companies such as LG Electronics, Doosan Robotics, HL Mando, and HIGEN RNM. Industry associations and pertinent entities such as POSCO DX, the Korea Association of Robot Industry (KAR), and the Korea Electronics Technology Institute were also in attendance.
At the meeting, Minister Moon-kyu Bang emphasized that the ministry will consolidate policy efforts across various government agencies to expand investments and create new overseas markets, helping secure global-level technological capabilities for the robot industry and position the "K-Robot Economy" as a new growth engine.
This strategic initiative aims to address Korea’s import-reliant nature. In 2021, South Korea emerged as the top automated country in manufacturing, achieving a milestone of 1,000 operational industrial robots per 10,000 employees in the manufacturing industry.
The chart below illustrates the top ten rankings, with Singapore, Japan, Germany, and China following behind:
Source: International Federation of Robotics (IFR), 2022
Nevertheless, the domestication rate of components stood at 44% the same year, while the import share of critical drive components, such as servo motors and decelerators, reached a notable 80.4%. Another domestic concern is the discernible technology competitiveness gap, particularly in software and sensors, in comparison to Japan, Germany, Switzerland, USA, and China.
For example, in regards to procurement, South Korea ranked last at 67.2 points, while Japan secured the lead with 97 points. The higher rankings of other countries can be attributed to the stability provided by their domestic markets, indicating that Korea relies more on foreign countries for procurement than these five nations:
Source: The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, 2023
As the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy takes proactive measures to strengthen the domestic sector, it is concurrently generating business prospects for foreign companies possessing advanced technologies, providing opportunities for collaboration and commercialization in the Korean market. It is thus recommended for such entities to closely monitor the unfolding developments.