Thursday, April 23, 2009

Stickybot: The Global Nature of New Technology

Stickybot" is a quadruped robot capable of climbing smooth surfaces, such as glass, acrylic and whiteboard using directional adhesive.  What is more interesting for the purpose of this post is that Sangbae Kim, a Korean Ph.D. student at Stanford University, was the lead designer of this amazing little robot.  A graduate of Yonsei University, Sangbae has already completed an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford and is working on his Ph.D with a special focus on bio-inspired robots.  If you doubt at all that this is inspirational work, please view the embedded video of "Stickybot" in action.  In the mid-1990s I taught for two years at the National University of Singapore and on more than one occasion I fell asleep after watching a tiny gecko crawl across the ceiling of my bedroom.  The biological similarities to real geckos that Kim Sangbae and his team have captured are truly amazing!  For those of you wishing to explore this in more depth, I recommend Mr. Kim's website.
All of this is very significant in light of my earlier posts about South Korea's goals for its robotics industry. Korea has declared its intent to focus on service robots, including networked robots.  It requires only a little imagination to think about what future versions of "Stickybot" and other biomimetic robots might offer in this regard.
Kim Sangbae has, appropriately, received many accolades for his work.  What I'd like to stress here are the following aspects of this story.

  • It shows clearly that advanced technology development these days is inherently global or transnational. 
  • Korea's future technology development and competitiveness will draw on students educated in Korea, the U.S. and other parts of the world.
  • It seems that South Korea has a bright future in robotics.
I hope you all enjoy the video!  More on this topic in future posts.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Korea Aims for Top Three Nations in Robotics

The Korean government aims to develop its domestic robotics industry into one of the world’s top three by 2013, officials said in April 2009. According to an article in the Joongang Ilbo, the government plans to spend 1 trillion won on research and development in the robot sector over the next five years, which will likely allow Korea to take a 13.3 percent share of the worldwide robotics market, according to the Ministry of Knowledge and Economy’s report to President Lee Myung-bak. In terms of production, the Korean robot industry ranked fifth as of last year, followed by Japan, the United States, Germany and Italy, according to the ministry.
Korea’s global market share stands at 8.9 percent, with exports topping $180 million.
More state research investment would help raise the size of the domestic market, from the current 896 billion won to 4 trillion won in 2013, while the world market for robotics is expected to reach $30 billion by the same year.  Since 2002, the government has invested an average of 82.1 billion won annually in robots. Specifically, the government plans to develop robots that are capable of performing surgery, acting as security guards, farming, doing housework and navigating submarines and aircraft.

South Korea's Differences with Google

The Hankyoreh newspaper is reporting some interesting background information on the fallout after Google refused to allow YouTube to accept the Korea Communication Commission's real-name system for posting comments or uploading content to popular web sites in South Korea.  The situation is showing signs of developing into a clash between the South Korean government, which is seeking to extend the application of its internet regulations to all Internet businesses, and the world’s largest Internet company, which is trying to maintain its principle of “freedom of expression” based on the option of exercising the “freedom of anonymous expression” on the Internet that it maintains elsewhere throughout the world.
An official at the Korea Communications Commission (KCC), who wished to remain nameless, said Thursday that the KCC was “in an uproar” over Google’s April 9 decision. “The people higher up said that they could not just leave Google alone and told us to find something to punish them with, so the related team is researching possible illegalities,” the official said.
On April 9, Google announced that it would be blocking users with South Korean nationality from uploading content and posting comments on YouTube Korea’s Web site, effectively rejecting the implementation of the real name system.
Industry experts suggest that the differences between the South Korean government and Google over how to apply the new Internet regulations reveals the fallacy of creating regulation that applies to only specific geographical regions on the Internet, which is a “network of networks.” According to the government, the difficulty it faces is that it is impossible to regulate Internet policy if it leaves cases like Google’s alone. Jeon Byeong-guk, director of the Internet consulting company, says that the government and Google “have come face-to-face in a situation where there are no points of agreement.” Jeon added, “Since Google does not have a large share of the South Korean market, the question is what is to be gained from the government simply cracking its whip.” I would only add that it is not only Korea, but governments around the world that face this challenge in their efforts to regulate the internet. The inherently global and interlinked character of the internet demands global approaches to governance and regulation.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

YouTube Rejects Real Name System for Korean Users

YouTube, the world's largest video-sharing Web site, said Thursday it has decided not to require South Korean users to use their real names when they register. According to the Korea Times, the move marks a rejection of a South Korean government policy that requires private information for online users. South Korea is the only country in the world where Internet users are required to input their name and resident registration number before subscribing to portals and other Internet services. However, observers pointed out the obvious fact that South Korean users will likely be able to post videos on the site without difficulty if they set their country preference to countries other than South Korea.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

"What's Broadband?" Billions in Stimulus Funds are at Stake

The headline I chose as the title for this post appeared in today's online issue of U.S.A. Today. It offers further proof that, when it comes to broadband internet policy, the United States seems to be on a different planet than people here in South Korea, in the EU and elsewhere. Congress has earmarked $7.2 billion in stimulus aid to deploy broadband in underserved parts of the USA. But what does that mean, really? The Federal Communications Commission is trying to come up with answers. At the request of lawmakers, the agency is in the process of defining "broadband," "underserved" and other terms. The FCC is advising the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which will make the final call on how stimulus money gets doled out. Opinions about what constitutes "broadband" vary wildly. Big incumbents such as AT&T favor a tiered approach to the speed of data delivery, starting at a minimum of 200 kilobits per second. Tech giants such as Intel say 100 megabits is more reasonable, given the explosion of bandwidth-hogging applications such as video streaming. While this was the news from U.S.A. Today, Forbes carried an article with some advice for President Obama from the President of KADO, The Korea Agency for Digital Opportunity and Promotion. nearly 80% of the general public uses the Internet regularly--KADO has focused on helping people with disabilities, senior citizens, rural dwellers and low-income families get online. These groups have a much lower Internet adoption rate, around 40% combined. To reach people in remote areas, it partners with local governments and civic associations and even holds classes in private homes. Volunteers do most of the teaching. Son says KADO's education efforts have taught 10 million Koreans how to e-mail, search the Web and download files. Beyond its domestic programs, KADO also functions as the Korean government's global IT ambassador. Its international efforts include establishing IT training labs in places like Kenya and Laos, organizing a corps of Korean volunteers to teach IT education abroad and hosting an annual forum for IT experts from developing countries. All these programs, naturally, cost money. KADO has a staff of 142 and an annual budget of approximately $45 million, which is fully funded by various branches of the Korean government. KADO was originally established as Korea's Information Telecommunication Training Center in 1982 and has evolved into its current form over the past decade.