When you think of South Korea you likely think of cars, smartphones, and flat screen TVs. But what about robots? Well, with the advent of a state-sponsored 735 million dollar theme park featuring futuristic rides, as well as R&D labs, robots are fast becoming big business in South Korea.
The park is not set to open until 2016, but it is being reported that the country will be investing more than one trillion won into its national robotics industry, an industry that has doubled in size in the past five years. In 2012, Bloomberg reported that the nation’s robotics industry had revenue topping 2.1 trillion won. Now, the government is working to increase that number to more than 7 trillion won by 2018. The projection calls for 600 domestic robotics companies employing more than 34,000 workers.
This effort must include a shift in presence and presentation for a country famous for its tiny electronics—semiconductors, sensors, and modern automotive computing equipment. One market PR challenge may stem from a transition in end user, from public defense to private consumer. This is because much of the technology being used to “commercialize” the robots comes from Hyundai Rotem, a defense subsidiary of Hyundai Motor Group.
In fact, one of the robot products already in use includes a robot sentry, equipped with a gun and grenade launcher, that has been tested on the border with North Korea. For many westerners, this application offers unsettling images of ED209 the “Bad Robot” from the Robocop film.
But the transition from military to consumer applications may not be as difficult as one might think. The country is taking the right tack in its transition by employing robots in places frequented by kids. Machines are helping to teach students English and others interact with fans at baseball games. Connecting with kids on two different fronts, the robotics industry is establishing a tried and true – and highly effective – PR program.
This is a vital step in continued growth, even as neighboring Japan has countered with robotics investments of its own. If South Korea wants to establish itself as a competitive player in this industry, it cannot discount the power of consumer expectation and strategic public relations.