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The Rising of Robots in Taiwan

By Vincent Wang
Published: Sep 03,2014

Robots will play an important role in providing physical assistance and even companionship for the elderly” said Bill Gates. The leader of the PC revolution predicts early in 2007 that the next hot field will be robotics. Many Taiwanese companies work hard in manufacturing robots, especially the industrial ones. The supply chain of which isn't a problem but where's the value chain?

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Gate's vision of robotics is based on an evolution of the PC. From personal computers in every home, to personal robots in every home. Robots are more fancy and complicated than robotic arms, which are more like human beings.


Though robotic arms already can do a lot of works, including doing surgery, bomb defusing, and dangerous tasks alike, but it can't be customized, and it's hard to integrate into or to be fitted with daily life.


It seems that what Gate's saying is correct, but the industrial robots are nothing to be looked down upon, as well.


Hiwin Technologies Corp., which produces linear guideways, ball screws and industrial robots, on July it is to team up with industrial computer supplier Advantech to manufacture robots, the partners are to set up a supply chain for robot production.


Hiwin Chairperson Eric Chuo said the company's robots are used to augment production automation for manufacturers. Chuo said that as demand had peaked in the second half of the year, Hiwin could ship about 100 units per month starting from this month.


Advantech possesses the know-how to make controllers and machine vision systems for robots, while Hiwin has the technology to make robotic arms, but it still requires a new company to integrate these technologies to manufacture products that cater to customers'needs, Advantech Chairperson and Chief Executive Liu Keh-chen said.



Figure 1 :   Intelligent Robot Technologies(Source: NTUST)
Figure 1 : Intelligent Robot Technologies(Source: NTUST)

The global demand for robots averaged between 160,000 to 180,000 units a year, but the demand this year is expected to reach around 200,000 units, Hiwin said.


The Cloud and Big Data are two crucial technology to make robots go smart, robot Pepper is a Japanese product that aims to be home robots for taking care of the elderly.


However, Barry Lam, the Founder and Chairman of Quanta Computer has different point of view regarding the robot. He stated that the Human Machine Interface (HMI) is a difficult problem, and the application, sale and busines models are not mature and practical enough. Therefore, there's still not much prospect out of robots in the near future.


“Robots take a lot of learning that the US and Japan have been experts in this field, many Taiwanese companies have vague definition and value chain out of it as long as someone can find it out, then whom will be the next Steve Jobs.” said Barry Lam.


Barry Lam considered that the robot is somewhat like the wearable, so far there's no mainstream products being developed yet, as well as no such a must out of it. “What we see right now is that the robot only can reduce the cost of the OEM/ODM companies, no such an end-product for customers.”


What worried Barry Lam is absolutely true. The US and Japan are a head of any other competitor in developing robots. Since the prototype of anthropomorphic robots has been made so that it's nothing far to be commercialized.


“I’m curious about humans and what makes people human-like,” Hiroshi Ishiguro, professor of Intelligent Robotics Laboratories at Osaka University in Japan says. “I want to further understand what neuroscience can’t yet explain, such as the social aspect of humans, as well as the mind and consciousness.”


Hiroshi Ishiguro firmly believes interactive, human-like robotic androids will become companions to people within the next half-decade, and will be as common as smartphones are today. He said that the alility of computer has already surpassed human brain, the robot will be smarter in such a short time.



Figure 2 :   Applications of Intelligent Robots(Source: NTUST)
Figure 2 : Applications of Intelligent Robots(Source: NTUST)

Ishiguro has already developed some very human-like robots that are now part of a permanent exhibit at Miraikan, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. These life-size androids have silicon skin and artificial muscles and they can speak, move body parts, such as eyes, lips, and heads, and be easily mistaken for humans.


Ishiguro's research will focus on human communication, along with the concepts of desire and intention, to build a hierarchical model of action and speech.


Practical applications of these human qualities in robots can range from support for people with developmental disabilities, support for the elderly, and education for people of all ages. It seems that there will be no boundaries between human beings and robots as long as robots become human beings' friends.


In conclusion, the supply chain of robots isn't a problem but where's the value chain? That's still remained the unanswered question of all robots competitors.


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