RoboBusiness: Korea's Robotland theme park

The South Korea government announced in 2007 plans to build Robotland, an amusement park/theme park centered around robotics. Yesterday at RoboBusiness, Robotland CEO Eugene Jun described the park in more detail and how the $700M project relates to the South Korean government's goals in the robotics industry.

robotland.jpg The 188-acre land in the city of Incheon has already been set aside by the government. Located across a bridge from the airport, the park is well placed to attract tourists (even during extended layovers) from all over the world. The park, set to open in July 2012, will include the amusement park portion, a shopping area, and an R&D business district in a Free Economic Zone which the government hopes will draw businesses to the area.

Why would the government be so willing to support a robotic Disney World? Right now, South Korea has an 8% share of the global robotics market, thanks to about 200 robotics companies (big and small) in the country. Most of these companies -- about 85% -- are in the industrial robotics space, with personal robotics far behind. By the year 2018, as part of the 21C Frontier Program, the government has decided to push for a 20% global market share and a greater focus on intelligent robots that will offer quality of life improvements and companionship for the aging population. To help this along, the government is offering promotion of robotics-related activities in the country, encouraging the establishment of technical and safety standards in the industry, and making strategic investments in companies and programs that will help meet their goal. Enter Robotland.

An aquarium where robotic fish swim with real fish. Day-long courses in robotics for the curious visitor. A massive arena to accommodate the 40+ robotics competitions that take place in South Korea. The opportunity to take a "ride" on a robotic arm (similar video here). A towering Transformer-like Taekwon V that shoots light out of its eyes (I'm not even kidding). In the best traditions of Disney theme park craziness, Robotland aims to push the boundaries of entertainment and interaction with the cutting edge of robotics.

There's plenty to be skeptical about. They're expecting four million visitors each year -- are robots actually exciting enough to draw those crowds from afar? Part of the success of Disney and its ilk is the powerful international marketing campaign built around their movies -- this has the challenge of drawing on the marketing from many individual companies that may not be very well known outside of their home countries. Will they have enough "fresh" material from robotics researchers and companies to keep the park new and exciting? It may be hard to find researchers willing to part with their prototypes to have them integrated into the park. And will a theme park and some tax incentives really do what the government hopes it will: inspire the new investors, businesses, and markets that they'll need to more than double their market share?

But hey, skepticism aside, I'm there.


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