Korea’s Naver robot ambition to challenge 5G field reality


Seongnam, South Korea, May 25 (Reuters) – The new headquarters of South Korean tech company Naver (035420.KS) near Seoul on weekdays resembles a scene from a science-fiction movie, in which about 40 robots roam the floors and deliver them. Parcel and Starbucks coffee to humans.

A rookie, called a robot, moves between people and even rides a reserved transparent elevator to traverse the 28th floor of a building. Crucially for Naver, Rookies’ brains are stored in the cloud and connected to the robot via a private super-fast 5G network.

While robots appear to be doing their job well, Naver’s senior executives are cautious about the commercial future of the startup’s robotics business, in which the company has already invested $550 million, as 5G technology presents challenges.

“This will be a long-term task,” said Seok Sang-ok, CEO of Naver Labs, which is leading the robot project, in an interview with Reuters.

Naver is Korea’s dominant search portal operator and one of the top 10 most valuable publicly traded companies with a market capitalization of $35 billion. By accelerating its advancement into 5G, in December, it became the first non-communication company in Korea to operate a locally licensed 5G network.

Naver’s cautious outlook for its robotics business highlights the challenges companies face in transforming the innovative ideas promised by 5G into commercial success.

This includes regulatory hurdles related to new services such as autonomous driving, uneven network rollouts, and gradual upgrades of technology.

And even in technologically advanced countries like South Korea, a 5G pioneer in Asia that launched 5G mobile networks in 2019, demand for the service is still low, and telecommunications companies support services such as autonomous driving. read more

cost advantage?

Naver’s robots currently perform basic functions and are being tested for reliability in relatively controlled environments, but Naver management expects economic feasibility as a USP for widespread use.

Naver declined to disclose the robot’s price, but said removing the central processing unit and graphics processing unit from the robot and keeping the “brain” in the cloud could cut the cost of the device by more than $1,500.

Professor Seok said, “The low latency of 5G is the key to discarding the computer inside the robot and allowing access to large-capacity computing power without limiting the size of the robot.”

Naver plans to increase the number of robots to 100 this year and allow them to perform setup and maintenance work in a large-scale data center that will be completed in 2023. According to the company, with 100,000 servers, that’s equivalent to the size of Microsoft’s or Apple’s largest data centers.

Naver Labs Won Choong-ryeol said in an interview, “5G is a network with many advantages, but it should be optimized for robots, not mobile phones. No one can do it, but we are doing it.”

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Reports by Joyce Lee and Byungwook Kim; Edited by Miyoung Kim, Muralikumar Anantharaman

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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