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Israel, South Korea launch new program for robotics tech cooperation

Initiative to offer funding of up to $5.3 million per joint project for two to four years

Ricky Ben-David is The Times of Israel’s Tech Israel editor and reporter.

An illustrative image of a smart robotic farming concept. (sarawuth702 via iStock by Getty Images)
An illustrative image of a smart robotic farming concept. (sarawuth702 via iStock by Getty Images)

The Israel Innovation Authority launched a new program this week with South Korea aimed at encouraging joint collaboration with industry and academic entities in the field of robotics technologies.

Working through the Korea-Israel Industrial R&D Foundation (KORIL-RDF), the “Lighthouse Program” will offer funding of up to $5.3 million per joint robotics project over a duration of between two to four years, with a special emphasis on four sub-sectors: health, logistics, agriculture and livestock, and domestic services (such as assistance for people with disabilities). The South Korean Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy indicated that some projects may also be expanded into the areas of autonomous driving and hydrogen technologies, according to the Korean Herald.

KORIL-RDF was established in 2001 as a bi-national foundation created by both governments with a mission to promote and support technological collaboration between commercial companies and academic institutions in both countries. The organization runs a number of programs and helps connect businesses entities in South Korea and Israel, liaise for prospective Korean and Israeli companies for joint R&D projects, and supports funding for R&D projects.

The Lighthouse Program was launched this week at an event at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation in Jaffa, attended by a delegation of about 40 Korean representatives from the business, government, and academics sectors. Participants included representatives from the Korean Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, KAR (Korea Association of Robot Industry), the Korea Institute of Industrial Technology, the Korea Institute for Advanced Technology, and Seoul National University, as well as representatives from large companies such as Korea Telecom (KT) and LG Electronics.

The delegation met with Israeli representatives from South Korean multinational automotive manufacturer Hyundai, the agricultural research organization Volcani Center, defense electronics company Elbit Systems, and the Human-Robot Interaction (HRI) consortium led by Elbit, set up late last year by the Israel Innovation Authority. They also worked with researchers from leading universities including Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Bar Ilan University, and the Technion – Israel’s Institute of Technology.

Dr. Ami Appelbaum, the chairman of the Israel Innovation Authority said at the event that, to establish leadership in robotics, “international collaborations are required such as this one with Korea, a country with many leading resources in the fields of research and technology, to help advance this goal.”

Dr. Ami Appelbaum, chairman of the Israel Innovation Authority at a launch event for a new robotics program with South Korea at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, on April 12, 2022. (Courtesy)

Israel’s relations with South Korea have warmed in recent years and Jerusalem finalized a free trade agreement with Seoul last year. Bilateral trade between the two countries reached about $2.4 billion in 2020, a majority of these goods and services imported into Israel, according to Israel’s Economy Ministry.

Israel also signed agreements for increased cooperation in the fields of energy and education with South Korea in 2019. A year earlier, Seoul bought advanced radar systems from Israel meant to improve its ability to detect incoming missiles, like those that could be launched by North Korea.

Israel and South Korea established diplomatic relations in 1962 and Israel opened an embassy in the country in 1992.

On the business and innovation side, Israel and South Korea are also very active. South Korean tech multinational Samsung runs the Samsung Israel R&D Center to tap into local talent.

Israeli medical imaging company Nano-X Imaging opened a new semiconductor chip manufacturing plant in South Korea. The facility will make the Nanox micro-electro-mechanical systems (“MEMs”) known as Nanox.SOURCE, a chip that produces the digital X-ray source for the Company’s Nanox.ARC system.

South Korea’s SK Telecom was a significant investor in the Nano-X and remains a major stakeholder. The company raised $165.2 million in an initial public offering on the Nasdaq in 2020.

From left: Akiva Tor, Israeli Ambassador to South Korea, Erez Meltzer, CEO of Nanox, Tae Yeol Lee, Vice president of Yonging Chamber of Commerce, and Dr. Il Ung Kim Chairman of Nanox Korea at the operational ceremony for a new chip facility. (Courtesy)

In addition, Israeli drug development company CytoReason inked a new agreement last week to establish a partnership with Korean biological big data company Helixrus and bring its AI platform for drug discovery and development to the Korean market.

Separately, Israel and South Korea often compete for top spots in the annual Bloomberg Innovation Index, a survey that ranks countries based on seven criteria measuring research and productivity.

South Korea ranked first in 2021 in the overall index while Israel came in seventh. However, Israel retained its top spot from the previous year for research and development intensity and regained the top rank for research concentration. South Korea placed first in patent activity and second in R&D intensity and manufacturing value-added.

A 2017 report from the Israel Innovation Authority said that a synergistic relationship based on complementary contrasts exists between Israel and South Korea in the fields of innovation and commerce.

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