In terms of usage, robots are classified into two types—industrial robots and service robots. The former is for assembly or welding, and the latter is used in medical treatment, education or national defense. Thanks to technological developments, service robots are expanding their roles in everyday life. For example, they can help out people at airports or guide customers at restaurants. You will see them all around very soon. A South Korean robot manufacturer named Future Robot is developing and supplying intelligent service robots in the hopes of creating a world where humans and robots live together. Let’s hear from company CEO, Song Se-gyeong.
Future Robot is dedicated to improving the future of the robot industry. The coexistence of humans and robots will become a reality in the near future, and the company is developing robot-related technologies, products and services that would benefit people. I was fascinated with robots, and I dreamed of doing a robot business some day. I obtained a doctorate degree in robot engineering at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. I also worked in a robot-related department at Samsung Electronics. I believe the service revolution will soon be upon us, following the agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution and the information technology revolution. I think robots will provide services for humans in daily life, with digital and analog technologies converged. With this belief in mind, my company has been developing service robots with distinctive concepts and relevant technologies.
Based on his experience in robot-related research and development at Samsung Electronics, he set up Future Robot in 2009. The company specializes in service robots that would interact and communicate with humans.
Our robot technology has three aspects. First, hardware involves designing and hardwiring. Secondly, software allows sensors to activate the robot and controls motors. Most importantly, there is emotional technology, which we call “soulware.” Robots are not humans but we seek to make them have souls and emotions. We have made efforts to apply the essential value of humanities to robot technology. We describe it as “human-robot interaction.” As indicated in this phrase, we have focused on developing technology that enables humans and robots to interact with each other.
Song is the first South Korean to have earned a doctorate degree in remote surgical robots. Since it was established, his company has developed superior technology. It has its own technology to make a robot from the stage of concept planning to hardware, software and contents. In particular, the human-robot interaction, or HRI, technology is one of the company’s strong points. This technology allows the robot to assess people’s mood by recognizing their body gestures, facial expressions and voices, and to provide user-tailored information. It is indispensable for the commercialization of service robots. The company was able to develop FURO, a service robot equipped with emotion interaction technology, in 2010, four years before the appearance of Pepper, an emotion-recognition robot developed by Japan’s Softbank Robotics.
We minimized hardware configuration but maximized connectivity in software. Plus, we inserted “soul” into FURO. That’s why the robot can be incorporated into different technologies easily and boasts broader applicability. For example, you can use your smartphone for various purposes. You can make a phone call, see a video and record something. In the same way, FURO can provide information to shoppers at a shopping mall and play music they are interested in. At a conference where a lot of people gather round, FURO can give a warm welcome to the guests and guide them. The robot can be made as big as an adult human. It can also be made smaller as a social robot that can have a simple conversation with humans, care for pet dogs at home or offer some educational functions.
FURO is able to provide information to people and interact with them, despite its simple hardware configuration. The human-shaped robot has a display screen on its face and body. The display on the face can recognize a person approaching it and has various facial expressions so the person feels as if he or she talks with it. The display on the body has a touchpad, which allows users to find information they want or tap something on it. The compatible operating system proves highly practical in various locations. If the operating system of Future Robot is installed on an information service at an exhibition hall or a navigation system at an airport, the service and the system can become a service robot capable of performing necessary functions in each site. Starting with its pilot service of guiding and taking orders at a restaurant at Incheon International Airport in 2010, FURO has provided various services at galleries, shopping malls, hospitals and public offices to show visitors around or give explanations. It can also take orders or help customers pay at coffee shops, restaurants and stores, while offering a multi-language service at international events as well. The robot has been in use in various parts of the world, including Mineta San Jose International Airport in the U.S., the Bank of Communications in China and the 2014 Brazil World Cup. FURO was also invited to an event before the Academy Awards in 2014. Visitors to the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics will also have a chance to see this famous robot.
It is a great honor for us to provide the highest number of robots at the PyeongChang Winter Games. I think FURO is a member of the South Korean national team at the Olympics. It has been selected as one of the few robots that can actually provide something useful and meaningful at the global sports event. There is translation software called Genie Talk, which was developed by the Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute. It is connected to our solution, and the robot lets speakers of different languages talk to each other. If a Korean asks a Chinese a question in Korean, for example, the robot translates it into Chinese. The Chinese person answers the question in Chinese, and the robot again translates it into Korean.
Thirty FURO robots will be deployed at next year’s PyeongChang Winter Olympics. They will support 20 different languages, including English, Chinese and Japanese, to offer translation and guide services to athletes, reporters and VIPs. Future Robot aims to prove the worth of service robots at the international sports gala watched by people the world over. The company is preparing for a post-Olympics era, when the robot industry is expected to grow even faster.
At present, robots are in the form of hardware. They will evolve into software products and ultimately soulware ones. Future Robot is in the phase of making hardware products. To move on to the next stage, we’re now working on artificial intelligence technology based on cloud computing. Cloud computing refers to a service where data is stored on servers connected to the Internet, allowing users to access the data anytime, anywhere, as long as they go online. We already have FURO offline, but when the AI technology is developed at a certain level, we can have another FURO, an online version equipped with intelligence. We hope to combine the two types to create a robot that provides services tailored to people’s needs in everyday life and make them happy.
The global service robot market is growing more than 30 percent on average each year. The market size is expected to reach 100 billion US dollars in the year 2025. To seize new business opportunities in the blue ocean market, robot manufacturers across the world are fiercely developing new and innovative technology. Future Robot is looking to stay ahead in the intense competition and take the lead in the global service robot industry.