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Taiwan beefs up robotics effort

Posted: 27 Aug 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Taiwan robot industry? robotics market? processor?

In search for the "next big thing" in electronics, Taiwan now has its eyes set on the robotics industry.

At the Taipei International Robot Show (TIROS), held on Aug. 21-24, Via Technologies Inc. showed several "entertainment robots" based on its boards and chips.

Taiwan companies including Hon Hai and Micro-Star International (MSI) have also joined the robotics bandwagon, which is generating interest on the island. Taiwan's private sector increased its investment of robotics to $192 million in 1H 2008, up 17 percent from the like period a year ago, according to the Robotics Association Taiwan (ROBOAT).

Taiwan's robot manufacturers are aiming for a share of the global market, which is worth a total of $17 billion annually, according to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR).

Booming market
Industrial robots are expected to increase from about 951,000 units by the end of 2006 to 1,173,300 by the end of 2010, representing an average annual growth rate of 5.5 percent, the IFR said.

Robots for entertainment and leisure are poised for even faster growth with projected installations between 2007 and 2010, more than doubling the installed base in 2006 of about 1 million units, according to the IFR. These robots can perform a variety of functions for their human owners including security, maintenance and entertainment. The market data was provided by the Taiwan External Trade Development Council.

Via showcased at the TIROS three compact robots provided by PlayRobot, a Taiwan-based robot developer. One system, the Johnny 5 robot, includes Via's Pico-ITX board and its VIA VX800 unified chipset.

The actual robot, which is made by Lynxmotion Inc., is a kit based on the movie robot. The Johnny 5 kit from Lynxmotion is aimed for entry-level enthusiasts who want to start building their own robots.

Another robot, the Vecna Battlefield Extraction-Assist Robot (BEAR), is based on Via's EPIA Mini-ITX board. Designed to rescue military personnel in combat situations, the Vecna BEAR can lift up to 600 pounds. Based on a Linux OS, BEAR is controlled by hydraulics with dynamic balancing behavior to navigate buildings, landscapes and even stairs.

"With our focus on miniaturization, feature integration and that all-critical power efficiency, Via has been enabling the increasing versatility and mobility of robotics for some time," said Daniel Wu, VP of the Via embedded platform division, in a statement. "Via's processor platforms are quite literally at the heart of this new robotic age."

Eyes on the prize
"Robotics is clearly the next big industry, and changes in the demographic structure make it an even more appealing industry for companies to invest in," added Charles Wu, product manager in the consumer electronics business unit of motherboard manufacturer MSI, in a statement. "Growing elderly populations, declining birth rates and shortages of manpower have all contributed to demand for entertainment robots or intelligent robots," Wu said.

MSI, which has invested in robotics R&D during the past five years, is developing entertainment robots.

Hon Hai Precision Industry, contract manufacturer of electronics, is also investing in robotics to enhance its in-house production capability. It has no plans to enter the business commercially.

- Mark LaPedus
EE Times

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