South Korea’s largest automaker Hyundai Motor Co. is seeking automation in not only driving but across its factories and dealers with the deployment of industrial and commercial robots.
According to local auto industry sources, the Korean auto giant launched a robotics development team last year and has doubled down on efforts to create robots that can be deployed in various situations, from manufacturing lines to auto dealers to electric vehicle charging stations.
The company is reportedly developing industrial robots designed to help factory workers reduce the load on their shoulders, back and neck. It first pilot-tested the robots at its plants in North America last September and is said to be considering expanding their applications at home.
In-store robots are also under development. According to people familiar with the project, the robots would not only greet customers at car dealer shops but personally go up to them to serve up information. They are expected to be equipped with a host of other advanced features that would rival Nissan’s humanoid robot Pepper, which was deployed in several Japanese dealers in 2015.
Coupled with its efforts to produce the next generation of battery-powered vehicles, Hyundai Motor plans to introduce by next year prototypes for its robotic EV chargers, which would automatically connect to and charge the vehicles once EV cars approach the parking unit.
Hyundai’s actions are part of a broader movement among its global peers to apply robotics to the automotive industry.
The U.S. auto giant Ford recently revealed its two-legged delivery robot called Digit. According to the company, Digit can unfold itself from the back of Ford’s self-driving delivery car once it arrives at the destination, carry packages that weigh up to 18 kilograms, go up and down stairs, and drop off the package right at the customer’s doorsteps.
In Japan, the world’s leading manufacturer of robots, Toyota is a dominant player. One of its innovations is the Kirobo Mini, which has been out in the Japanese market since 2016. Toyota pitches the 10-centimeter robot as a “conversation partner” for lonely drivers, capable of not only engaging in casual conversation but also recognizing facial expressions and responding to their emotions.
The auto parts industry has also joined the latest robotics push. Hanon Systems, a Korean supplier of automotive thermal and energy management solutions, recently hired Chang Woo-sok, former head of Hanwha’s robotics division, to lead its advanced technology center in efforts to accelerate its research in autonomous vehicle parts.
By Moon Ji-woong and Kim Hyo-jin
[ⓒ Pulse by Maeil Business Newspaper & mk.co.kr, All rights reserved]