Applications Seen for Smart Robots
(ACN Newswire) – The use of artificial intelligence (AI) robots will
increasingly grow across industries, providing new business opportunities,
according to speakers at the 2017 Tech Trends Symposium, held during the HKTDC
Hong Kong Electronics Fair (Spring Edition) 2017 (13-16 April).
At a 15 April symposium session entitled
“The New Era of Robotics Disruption,” four experts discussed industry
applications of AI robots and relevant business opportunities, while
highlighting the importance of nurturing talent in research and development (R&D).
Wide scope of applications
Norman C Tien, Dean of the Faculty of
Engineering at the University of Hong Kong, said the 2016 victory of AI robot
AlphGo over South Korean master Lee Sedol at the “Go” board game
showed that the technology has come a long way. “Companies are all
developing strategies for the robots to learn and get smarter,” he said.
Professor Tien stressed that robotic technology
has a wide variety of applications, ranging from civilian drones to medical
sensors and self-driving systems. “Applications are boundless, as robotic
technology can be applied in almost anything,” he said. “The trend
would be developing the technology that changes people’s lives seamlessly like
the smartphone or social media did.” For instance, he added, when vehicles
are equipped with self-driving systems, people will no longer have to learn how
to drive. Smart technology used to control the flow of vehicles. It will also
eliminate traffic jams in future.
Adding value to “3D” industries,
upgrading human resources
Dr Crystal Fok, Technical Lead (Robotics), Hong
Kong Science and Technology Parks Corp, predicted that smart robots will be
used in various industries in Hong Kong in the next five years, including for
tasks characterised as the “3D”: Dirty, Dull, and Dangerous – such as
for industrial laundry and construction-site welding. “The robot is a
tool. With the technologies, robots can help tackle the problems,” said Dr
Fok. She stressed that robots will not replace humans but upgrade workers to value-added
Dr Chia-Peng Day, General Manager, Foxconn
Automation Technology Development Committee, concurred that in the long run,
robotic technology can be applied to factory automation systems, particularly
in the “3D” sectors, adding that the technology involves a chained
system rather than just a robot.
According to Dr Fok, Hong Kong’s logistics
industry has been a pioneer in robotic technology applications, particularly in
developing smart warehouses where mobile robots pick, categorise and pack stock
autonomously. She added that with the development of AI systems, it will be
possible someday for multiple robots to work in the same warehouse to enhance
However, she added that the use of smart
warehouses is not limited to the logistics industry, but may be extended
eventually to other industries and is expected to be an area of high profit
growth. She added that educational entertainment is another area where R&D
in robotic technology had an early start and is yielding rewards.
Business opportunities through improving quality
Gordon Cheng, Professor and Chair, Institute for
Cognitive Systems, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Technical
University of Munich, believed there is potential for robotic technology
applications in such fields as edutainment, medicine and industry. For the
medical and industrial sectors, he expected the technology to become widely
used as technological costs gradually decrease.
He added the development of AI technologies
should focus on enhancing the quality of life. He cited the example of the 2014
World Cup, which was kicked off by a paraplegic wearing an AI-controlled
exoskeleton. Germany is developing different types of force cell sensors that
may be applied to smart robots, and conducting experiments for medical
applications to help disabled people live a full life.
Professor Cheng also highlighted the possibility
of replacing domestic helpers with smart robots, adding that Europe and the
United States may be forerunners in employing the technology for this purpose
given the high cost of employing domestic help.
China potential, global need for nurturing
Dr Day noted that China is promoting the
development of robotic technology through large-scale investment and policy
support, and is poised to become a leading adopter of the technology.
He also highlighted the need to nurture global
talent for the field, underscoring the importance of educational investment.
For Hong Kong, Dr Fok also saw a need to nurture local R&D talent that
responds to developing trends. Professor Tien emphasised that the city needs to
build an ecosystem conducive to the development of innovation and technology.
He noted that the government has invested HK$18 billion in fostering the
development of innovation technology, and set up a HK$2 billion fund for
investing in local tech start-ups. Professor Tien added that the Robotics
Alliance of Hong Kong, which he chairs serves as a link between the industry
and local R&D institutes in facilitating the exchange of ideas and