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Issue Report

Collection of full-length papers and in-depth analysis of economic and management issues.

The Rise of Specialized Service Robots

The Rise of Specialized Service Robots

LEE Chi-Ho

Aug. 2, 2011

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Originally released on June 16, 2011

Robots are largely categorized into manufacturing robots and service robots. Service robots are then further divided into specialized service robots and personal service robots. Robots used in medicine, national defense and security, and maritime operations are specialized service robots, which must be operated by a specialist, or operate in conjunction with one. Recently, much attention has been paid to specialized service robots. The US, former robotics powerhouse that was later overtaken by Japan and Germany, is recouping its reputation as a pioneer in robot making. To the chagrin of Japan, American robots, not Japanese ones, were deployed to the Fukushima nuclear power plant, which fueled criticism of the current non-practical research trend that is centered on humanoids.

The renewed attention on specialized service robots is attributable first to their huge growth potential and ability to create spin-off markets. The specialized robot industry which took shape in 2005 is expected to continuously grow into a US$12 billion industry by 2020. Above all, as business-to-business (B2B) transactions often give rise to derivative businesses combined with services, spin-off markets from the robotics industry is anticipated to dwarf the robot industry itself in the future. Second, with the robotics industry at its infancy, market entry is easier. Since the industry still provides favorable market entry conditions in terms of both technology and customers, companies need to partake in the market before early comers put up lofty entry barriers. Third, forays into the specialized robot sector help make way for breaking into the personal service robot sector since the specialized service robot sector plays a bridging role between manufacturing robots and personal service robots, which greatly differ in technology, market and business models. In anticipation of the center of gravity shifting towards robots for personal services by 2020, companies need to set up their industrial bases in the specialized robot sector so as to secure a vantage point in the robotics market.

To push for the development of specialized robots, companies should take into account the development of both robotics and derivative industries. The need for specialized robots should be accurately identified, and creation of platforms and standardization of parts should be pursued to overcome the limits of the overly-fragmented specialized service robot market. Since forming a market for a specialized service robot is a tough task in the beginning, efforts to create a public demand-driven market are recommended. Capitalizing on Korea's high demand for the defense industry, defense robots can be utilized as one of the props of domestic demand.

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