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[From the Scene] Doosan to double output of 'cobots' with advanced but cheaper sensors by 2024

Buoyed by hot stock debut, Korea’s largest robot maker unveils cutting-edge production lines for collaborative robots

Dec. 7, 2023 - 16:59 By Moon Joon-hyun
Engineers at Doosan Robotics work on collaborative robots in the company's workshop in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, conducting extensive 13-hour tests that simulate a variety of scenarios. (Doosan Robotics)

Doosan Robotics, seemingly buoyed by its high-profile stock debut last month, on Tuesday invited a group of reporters to its Suwon plant in Gyeonggi Province, the production base of the nation’s largest robotics company.

“At Doosan Robotics, we aim to revolutionize work by developing cobots for augmenting human efforts with great precision, safety and high cost-effectiveness to help address labor shortages across numerous sectors more accessibly," said Ryu Jung-hoon, CEO of Doosan Robotics.

The company made its $310 million initial public offering on the nation’s benchmark Kospi on Oct. 5. It was the nation’s largest stock debut of the year, with the IPO price more than doubling on the first day.

Doosan’s flagship models are collaborative robots, or cobots, which are designed for a variety of settings, including assembly lines and retail stores.

The Suwon plant produces a range of 13 product lineups catering to various industries, including heavy-duty tasks and the food and beverage sector. The company aims to grow the figure to 17 models by 2026.

A standout feature of Doosan's cobots, demonstrated at Tuesday's showcase, was their effortless operation and sensitive collision response, enabled by torque sensors in all six joints. Most notably, the company has reduced sensor costs by nearly a third, substantially undercutting competitors.

“We've recently deployed our advanced models, complete with six-joint torque sensors in the food and beverage sector, such as robots in fried chicken restaurants, at around 20 million won ($1,500) per unit -- which is about two-thirds cheaper than similar offerings in the market,” said Ryu.

Modularization is another strength, allowing the company, which began in 2015, to launch four robot models within two years.

“In the early days, breaking down the design into six joints per model led to a total of 24 standardized joints across all four models. It’s a key competitive advantage for us,” said Lee Kwang-kyu, head of robot development.

In a 2023 report by robotics database firm Statzon, Doosan's cobots were recognized globally, with the H2515 model ranking seventh in payload capacity and the E Series ninth in horizontal distance.

A laparoscopic surgical assistant cobot, a joint product of Doosan Robotics and medical equipment maker Erop, holds a camera-equipped instrument that can operate through small incisions, providing a clear view of the internal organs, reducing physical strain on surgeons. (Doosan Robotics)

Lee Sang-min, a manager from Doosan’s partner firm Erop, demonstrated a laparoscopic surgical assistant cobot designed for medical applications. This cobot, priced at under 100 million won, is human-controlled to handle a 3-kilogram load to alleviate physical strain from surgeons during lengthy operations.

“An advanced model is coming by 2026 that will autonomously align with the surgeon’s movements,” Lee said.

To meet growing demand, the company plans to expand the production capacity of its Suwon plant by nearly twofold, from the current 2,200 units to 4,000 units next year, with a long-term goal of reaching 11,000 units annually by 2026. This expansion includes utilizing cobots in production to reduce assembly time by 38 percent.

Beyond hardware, CEO Ryu stressed the importance of user-friendly platforms and open development environments to broaden the application of robotics. The Dart Suite, introduced by Kim Han-seok, head of the software platform, is a comprehensive software package aimed at enhancing cobot usability. It includes Dart IDE, Dart Store, Dart Platform, Dart Forum, and Dart Developer, with Dart IDE designed to facilitate cobot programming for users of varying skill levels.

Doosan Robotics has invested over $7.6 million in Dart Suite and plans to use over 68 percent of its IPO funds to invest in technology companies, such as autonomous mobile robots.

The company’s participation in the upcoming CES 2024, with previewed innovations like integrating OpenAI's generative pre-trained model for no-nonsense robot control, is anticipated to further increase its corporate value post-IPO.

“Since we are not bogged down by legacy, we can push the boundaries in both robots and software platform tech, an uncharted territory in the realm of robotics,” Ryu said.