Monday, July 13, 2015

Building Blocks of South Korea’s Success in DARPA Robotics Challenge

Congratulations to Team KAIST from South Korea for winning the DARPA Robotics Challenge! They accomplished this feat by beating several well-known teams from the US and Japan. Just few years ago it would have been hard to predict this outcome. The rate at which South Korea has made progress in the field of robotics is truly impressive.

South Koreans have been working diligently to emerge as a major player in the high technology and advanced manufacturing areas. Here are some of the factors that provided foundations for South Korea’s noteworthy achievement in the DARPA Robotics Challenge:
  • Pre-college students in South Korea consistently lead the world in terms of science and mathematics achievements. This factor is crucial in building a strong workforce in STEM-related areas and producing world-class robotics engineers.
  • South Korea has emerged as a leader in the advanced manufacturing area. This enables them to design and build high-performance robotics hardware with remarkable capabilities.
  • Becoming a world champion requires a culture of excellence, determination, hard work, and perseverance. South Korea’s performance in Summer Olympics 2012 gives an idea of prevalence of this culture in that country. They were in the second place in terms of per capita gold medals won in the London Olympic Games.
  • South Korea is currently one of the top nations in the world in terms of research and development expenditure as a percentage of GDP. The availability of research funding has enabled them to develop the capacity to innovate and realize new robotics technology.
  • South Korea is currently number one in the world in terms of industrial robot deployment per 10,000 workers. Many people find it surprising that they are well ahead of Japan and Germany on this metric.
In summary, becoming world-class in any technology endeavor requires talented people, funding, infrastructure, and culture. South Koreans seem to understand this quite well. They are investing in R&D. They have a culture that values STEM education and demands excellence. They have developed the manufacturing infrastructure to facilitate innovation. They have embraced robotics in a big way. Their success in the DARPA Robotics Challenge is simply a return on their long-term investments in science and technology.