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IFR Secretariat Blog - Jul 17, 2020

World Robotics R&D Programs’, compiled under the leadership of Professor Jong-Oh Park of Chonnam University, provides a valuable resource for researchers, investors and policy makers looking to understand different countries’ strategies for developing their respective robotics sectors.

Information was gathered from 20 countries and regions. As many of these countries do not run specific government-led research programs into robotics, or could not provide robust data, the final report focuses on eight countries or regions – China, Japan, Korea, Germany, USA Sweden, Italy and the EU. The report makes accessible - in English - material from key Asian and European countries that is otherwise only available in the local language.

Countries covered in the World Robotics R&D programs
Countries/regions covered in the World Robotics R&D programs

The analysis shows substantial variance in government investment in robotics, with the Chinese government – the largest investor in robotics research by total dollar amount– spending USD 577 million in 2019 on robotics research, compared with an investment of USD 35 million dollars in the US, through the National Robotics Initiative. China has been the world’s largest industrial robot market since 2013 and accounted for 36% of total installations in 2017 and 2018.

Japan, which in 2018 provided 52% of global supply of industrial robots according to the IFR, is the second largest public-sector investor, with USD 351 million assigned to robotics research in 2019. Korea, which has the second-highest number of robots in operation per manufacturing employee, has a robot-related budget of USD 126 million for 2020.

The report, which can be downloaded here, provides a valuable comparison of the different areas in which each country seeks to establish a competitive advantage through funded research in robotics.

China has set out very concrete and ambitious goals for its robotics sector. In the 2013 ‘Guideline on Promoting the Development of the Industrial Robot Industry’, the government aimed by 2020 to: Develop three to five globally competitive robot manufacturers; Create eight to ten industrial clusters; Achieve 45% of domestic market share for China’s high-end robots, and; Increase China’s robot density to 100 robots per 10,000 workers. The IFR report World Robotics 2019: Industrial Robots shows that China reached a robot density of 140 units per 10,000 workers in the manufacturing industry in 2018. In 2016, the Robot Industry Development Plan (2016-2020) was announced with the aims of expanding the scale of China’s robotics sector, strengthening technological innovation capacity, improving core parts production capacity, and improving application integration capacity. Ten robotic solution areas, such as welding, cleaning and human-machine collaboration and 5 component technologies including sensors and high-performance controllers have been prioritized. China has a very diverse manufacturing industry, with over 100 different sectors including leather and fur manufacturing, wood processing, machinery and equipment repair, pipeline transportation and furniture manufacturing. Many of these sectors have only just begun to automate and Chinese robot manufacturers collaborate with potential customers – many of them small-to-medium-sized businesses – to develop new applications.

All of the main robot-producing countries have placed a focus on the development of robotic applications for healthcare. Robots are already used extensively in hospitals for a variety of tasks; fetching and carrying medications and linens, acting as ‘virtual assistants’ through telepresence applications, increasing the efficiency of medical testing, disinfecting hospital rooms and supporting patients in rehabilitation of limbs after injury and illness. As aging populations place an increasing burden on healthcare systems, we can expect to see robots playing an increasingly extensive role assisting doctors and nurses in patient care and safety.

Both Japan and Korea have identified agriculture and disaster response as target industry sectors for the development of robots and robotic applications. Field robots accounted for over 11 percent of sales of professional service robots tracked by the IFR in 2018 (see World Robotics 2019 - Service Robots). This is a rapidly growing sector which the IFR expects to expand by 45% on average year-on-year between 2019 and 2022.

As part of the cross-ministerial Strategic Innovation Promotion Program (SIP), the Japanese government has also prioritized manufacturing, service sectors and infrastructure and construction for the development of robot applications. The Korean government’s ‘3rd Basic Plan for Intelligent Robots’, which runs from 2019 to 2023, focuses, in addition to agriculture, healthcare and disaster response mentioned earlier, on service robotics, wearable devices, logistics, underwater exploration and defense.

In the US, government funding for robotics is provided by The National Robotics Initiative (NRI) which, with a budget of USD 35 million, focuses on technologies and systems to achieve a vision of ubiquitous collaborative robots assisting humans in every aspect of life. Additional robotics funding for applications in defense and space is provided through the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Mars Exploration Program.

Robotics funding by the EU has been directed through the current seven-year research framework program Horizon 2020, which runs from 2014 to 2020 and covers a wide range of research and innovation topics including manufacturing, consumer, healthcare, transportation, and agri-food robotics. The final work program runs for three years from 2018 to 2020 with a budget of USD 172 million. It focuses on digitization of industry through robotics, robotics applications in promising new areas, and robotics core technologies such as AI and cognition, cognitive mechatronics, socially cooperative human-robot interaction, and model-based design and configuration tools. The next seven-year research framework program, Horizon Europe, starting in 2021, is currently in development and will reflect recent efforts to boost global R&D to address the corona pandemic.

The German government has placed a strong focus on leadership in ‘Industry 4.0’, focusing on the adoption of advanced automation technologies in manufacturing, and the digitization of business models in other sectors. The ‘Industry 4.0’ initiative, which falls under the overall High-Tech Strategy launched in 2006, covers various aspects of robotics through 5-year programs. The current PAiCE program (Platforms | Additive Manufacturing | Imaging | Communication | Engineering), launched in 2016 with USD 55 million dollars in funding, focuses on the development of digital platforms and the collaboration between companies using them. Robotics-oriented projects focus on the creation of platforms for service robotic solutions in service sectors, logistics and manufacturing.

We are grateful to the IFR Research Committee, and particularly to Professor Park and his team at Chonnam University, for compiling the World Robotics R&D Programs’ report. This is a unique and valuable resource that gives organizations a concise overview of different governments’ priorities in robotics development to help guide investment and partnership strategy.

About the author

Dr. Susanne Bieller

IFR General Secretary

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Dr. Susanne Bieller

IFR General Secretary

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Nina Kutzbach

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