Friday, July 24, 2015

Korea's creative economy and startup ecosystem: a personal note

Those who check this blog on occasion will know that my posts have been few and far between for the past month or so.  This is not for lack of interesting developments here in Korea.  To the contrary, so much has happened that I simply haven't had the time to share it with you.  However, I can report that the creative economy initiative of the Park Geun-hye administration appears to be alive and well.
In late June, as reported in an earlier post, I was in the island province of Jeju for meetings and research relating to South Korea's smart grid initiative.  Coincidentally, President Park Geun-hye visited Jeju City to dedicate another innovation center.  More recently, as reported in the  Korea Joongang Daily, the CJ Group joined the central and Seoul city governments in opening another such center, as shown in the accompanying photo.
Almost immediately upon my return to SUNY Korea from Jeju, I welcomed Danny Crichton to our campus for a two week visit, during which he and I co-taught (with Danny doing by far the bulk of the teaching on a subject in which he is already an expert) a Stony Brook University course on "How to Build a Startup."  Our students were 35 Korea University undergraduate juniors and seniors, along with one graduate student from the Department of Technology and Society here.  Danny and I first met when he was a Fulbright student scholar and I was a visiting professor at KAIST in Daejon.  We've stayed in touch and collaborated on different activities since.   Danny has posted much of the course content on his website and I encourage you to take a look at this link or through our SUNY Korea course website here!   The course was a great experience for the instructors, our graduate teaching assistant, Mr. Feng Jin and visitors.   It provided everyone with a fresh perspective on how current Silicon Valley startup practices stack up against one of the central challenges Korea faces to build a creative economy -- breaking into the global market for mobile software content and services!
The creative economy and the important role of startup ventures in it, will not happen in Korea overnight.  The change may indeed be slow and generational.   However, even for someone who lives and works in Korea, there is perceptible movement and change!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Korea ranks fourth in smartphone penetration

One of the remarkable changes occurring in the world these days is the extremely rapid diffusion of smartphones.  As reported widely in the local press, a new study shows that South Korea ranks fourth in the world in smartphone penetration.  The Korea Joongang Daily, in describing a report issued by the research arm of KT, noted that "...one of the biggest changes in the global market this year has been the rapid rise in new markets, such as Thailand, in the use of smartphones. In that country, the smartphone penetration rate rose 23.7 percentage points in one year. Two out of three Thais (63.7 percent) now carry a smartphone. Other emerging markets such as Brazil, Malaysia, Vietnam, Poland, Argentina, Turkey, Russia and Indonesia saw an increase in penetration of more than 15 percentage points over the past year."

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Digital developments in Jeju, Korea's island province

I'm in Jeju where yesterday I attended a conference of The Korea Society for Innovation Management and Economics (KOSIME).  It was a full day of presentations by graduate students, professors and researchers from leading Korean institutions on a broad range of topics related to science, technology and innovation.  Three Ph.D. students from our Department of Technology and Society at SUNY Korea gave presentations in the morning sessions and two of my faculty colleagues are active in KOSIME.
Coincidentally, President Park Geun-hye visited Jeju yesterday for the official launch of The Jeju Center for a Creative Economy and Innovation.  It is part of a network of such centers being established around the country as part of the Park administration's creative economy initiative. Not surprisingly, as explained in the embedded video from Arirang News, the new Jeju center will focus initially on bringing the island's booming tourism industry into the digital age.
Another obvious focus for the center will be the energy sector and smart grid technology.  Jeju island, with its plentiful supply of both wind and sun, was chosen in 2009 as the site of the nation's smart grid pilot project.  For that reason, I'm extending my stay in Jeju for a few days in order to meet with executives of KEPCO and to visit their exhibition center on the smart grid pilot project.  More on this topic in future posts.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Team KAIST wins the DARPA robotics challenge--congratulations!

The accompanying video captures the moment, earlier this month, that a robot built at KAIST won the 2015 DARPA robotics challenge in California.
I was delighted to learn that a team from KAIST had won the challenge, for several reasons.
  • I taught at KAIST in 2012-2013 and had the opportunity to meet Professor Jun Ho Oh, who heads the Humanoid Robotics Research Center there.
  • The robotics industry and its role in future networks is of considerable interest to me and a frequent topic of this blog, as this selection of posts shows.
  • The theme of the DARPA robotics challenge (described in detail on the challenge website here) is disaster response, and SUNY Korea has just begun working more closely with the Songdo office of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR). 
There are quite a few excellent photographs from the 2015 DARPA Robotics Challenge circulating on the internet, including the following one.
As you can see, Hubo was designed like a transformer, allowing the robot to perform a wider variety of tasks, one of which is shown in the following photograph.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Sustainable energy, smart-grids, and Korea's islands

The title of an article recently published in the Korea Joongang Daily caught my attention, along with the illustrations it contained.  You see, I'm going to visit the island province of Jeju later this month and plan to extend my stay for the specific purpose of learning all I can and observing the results of a large smart-grid pilot project conducted there in recent years.  The title of the article, "Global sustainable energy starts on Korea's islands," also resonated with material being covered in the course I've taught this semester on ICT for development, which placed considerable emphasis on sustainability.  As noted in the article, "Tiny Gasa Island off the nation’s southwestern coast is perhaps best known for the special seaweed its residents export to Japan. But these days, it’s the wind turbines and solar panels making the island energy independent that are grabbing all the attention. (click on the graphic to see a full size version) The island is home to the nation’s first completely automated energy management system that powers Gasa Island’s homes and small businesses. Developed by the nation’s sole distributor, Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco), the system also stores extra power in electricity storage system (ESS) batteries in case of outages. The fully charged batteries can provide enough electricity to supply the entire island for up to 24 hours."

"Before the microgrid facilities arrived, the island used to be entirely dependent on old and costly diesel power plants. In order to pay for power, the Jindo County government used to face an average operating loss of 700 million won ($629,000) every year. But after Kepco came in last October, the small island has shaved 150 million won from its power bill over the past six months." The article also noted that "The microgrid project on Gasa Island is one of Kepco’s test-bed communities, which the corporation hopes can demonstrate the viability of its systems for use on far-away islands and in mountain villages. So far, the government has worked with Kepco to transfer the system to 86 other islands around the peninsula." Reading about this project made me wonder just how many islands surround coast of South Korea. According to one government website there are more than three thousand islands, only about 400 of which are inhabited. In addition to their natural beauty, they comprise a potentially very valuable test bed for developing sustainable energy that might be exported and shared around the world.