South Korea trumps Japan and Germany in robotics, with the US also lagging behind in the top 10. Meanwhile, China is on the march. Bad news for the UK, says IFR. Chris Middleton reports.
China may be automating faster than any other nation, but South Korea is easily the most automated country on earth, according to the International Federation of Robotics.
South Korea has by far the highest robot density in manufacturing, according to the IFR’s latest figures. It boasts 631 robots per 10,000 employees, which is eight times the global average.
The figures suggest that if each industrial robot can do the jobs of more than 15 full-time human workers, as some reports have estimated, then robots in South Korea are already doing nearly as much work as the entire human workforce.
(631 robots x 15 humans = 631 robots doing the jobs of 9,465+ people, for every 10,000 human workers.)
Meanwhile, the Korean Railroad Research Institute is turning the entire national railway system into a smart, sensor-filled, connected network, which gathers data about every journey and how efficiently the system is running.
Singapore, Germany, and Japan follow South Korea in the world automation league, says the IFR, with robot densities of 488, 309, and 303, respectively. The US has 189 robots per 10,000 employees, placing it seventh.
No zero sum game
In recent years, the US has been investing heavily in automating its automotive manufacturing sector. However, despite US car makers deploying 60,000 industrial robots in 2016 – almost as many as China purchased in the same year – they created tens of thousands of new human jobs in the sector at the same time.
The figures demonstrate that automation isn’t a zero sum game when it comes to employment.
But what about the UK?
Despite its expertise across many areas of robotics and AI, the UK lags behind other developed economies in 22nd place, with a robot density of just 71. That’s below the global average of 74, and well behind Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Spain, and France, among others.
In fact, the UK is the only G7 nation with a robot density below the global average. Even Belgium is automating faster than the UK, and is ninth in the global league.
The only good news is that the UK is still one place above China. However, China has a human population of well over one billion people, and a strategy to push into the automation top 10 by 2020. It will doubtless succeed.
Meanwhile, Japan is investing £161 billion by 2020 to build what it calls a “super-smart society”. By contrast, the UK is investing just £200-300 million in the same timeframe – a sum that is 500 to 800 times smaller than Japan’s.
And there’s worse news for Britain: 85 per cent of that investment comes directly from the EU, according to Parliament’s own figures (quoted in the small print of the RSA’s Age of Automation report last year).
The IFR had this to say of the UK’s plight: “General industry is highly in need of necessary investment in order to modernise and increase productivity. The low robot density rate is indicative of this fact.
“Despite the decision to leave the EU, there are currently many suggested investment plans for capacity expansion and modernisation of foreign and local automotive companies. However, it is not evident whether companies will hold back investments due to uncertainties concerning customs duties.”
• Honda is one of several companies threatening to leave the UK, post-Brexit.
Internet of Business says
While UK policymakers grumble about what kind of society they don’t want, post-Brexit, there is precious little vision about what they do want to create. Meanwhile, countries like China, Japan, Germany, and most of Britain’s European allies, have set out clear visions for a high-tech future. South Korea is already there.
The UK hosts world-leading research and expertise in robotics, AI, and autonomous systems, and the government has identified these as being among the ‘Eight Great Technologies’ that will be critical to economic prosperity. And yet it is investing chickenfeed in making it happen, a lamentable state of affairs.
If the UK is to convince both high-tech companies and researchers to remain in the country, it will urgently have to raise its game in a sector that could be worth anything up to $4 trillion worldwide over the next decade, by some estimates.