Automation & Robotics to Redefine Thailand’s Industries

Get insight into Thailand’s automation and robotics industry and its impact for the future.
Michael Sopon New

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Automation & Robotics to Redefine Thailand’s Industries

From “The Matrix” to “2001: A Space Odyssey” to the “Terminator” series, we seem to have this idea that robots are the bad guys. They’re cold and unfeeling. They’re brutally logical and scary.

But that’s just Hollywood dramatization. In real life, robots are here to make our lives safer, easier, and more efficient. Thailand has been extremely receptive and supportive of automation and robotics (A&R), a growth industry that was further catalyzed by pandemic restrictions on human labor.

This article will take a look at why automation and robotics matters, some exciting robotics projects in Thailand, and how the country is moving to seize opportunities in an industry with far-reaching implications for our entire way of life.

Automation & Robotics to Redefine Thailand’s Industries

  • What is automation & robotics?
  • Changemaking robotics projects
    • Raibo-X
    • AutoVacc
    • Dinsow
    • ZEABUS 2018 AUV
  • Industrial development in Thailand
  • Investing in Thai automation & robotics
  • Human resources gets an upgrade
    • Examples of automation & robotics programs
  • Investing in Thailand’s future

What is automation & robotics?

True 5G patrol bots at Siam Paragon shopping mall are used to scan body temperatures and warn people who fail to wear their masks. Source: Burin P / Shutterstock.com

A robot is a machine that can be programmed to carry out a series of tasks. According to this definition, a lot of things can be counted as a robot. Self-driving cars fit this description, as do smart appliances like a smoothie blender you can control from your phone.

To automate something is to have it run on its own. Essentially, the purpose of automation is to reduce the need for human intervention. Between the two of these things, we have the building blocks to shape a future where robots are doing everything, from vacuuming our living rooms to assisting with surgical operations to delivering our packages.

Changemaking robotics projects

Let’s take a look at some specific robots designed and built in Thailand and the possibilities they provide:

Raibo-X

Students from the KMITL School of Engineering testing their Raibo-X at Impact Arena in Nonthaburi, Thailand. Source: School of Engineering – KMITL

COVID-19 has created a multitude of serious problems we have been forced to address. A virus that is this contagious makes it extremely difficult for doctors and nurses to treat their patients without putting themselves at risk. However, it also puts the cleaning staff at risk, something many people might not immediately think about.

Raibo-X, designed by the School of Engineering of King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Ladkrabang, is a robot that can map out a room and completely disinfect it using UVC light. UVC light will kill any germ it comes into contact with but is too dangerous to be used by humans. This robot is also the perfect solution for cleaning spaces after-hours.

AutoVacc

A lab technician demonstrates the AutoVacc robotic syringe arm, which saves precious time and manual labor. Source: Chulalongkorn University

Like several other countries around the world, Thailand has struggled with a spike in COVID-19 cases due to the highly transmissible Delta variant. Chulalongkorn University (🇹🇭) researchers have responded by developing a machine that can boost the number of vaccine doses available. 

Using a robotic arm, the “AutoVacc” system can draw 12 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from vials, up from the standard 10 doses drawn manually or an increase of 20%. According to lead researcher Asst. Prof. Dr. Juthamas Ratanavaraporn, putting this innovation into practice will not only lighten the workload of medical personnel, but increase the number of vaccinations. 

Currently, the machine is being trialled at the Chulalongkorn University Health Service Centre. Researchers will continue to develop the machine to be compatible with other vaccines.

Dinsow

Dinsow can help take care of seniors, monitor health, and perform assistant duties. Source: DINSOW

Dinsow is an award-winning robot developed by CT Asia Robotics that is fitted with a camera as well as infrared and thermal sensors. It uses artificial intelligence to monitor health, have conversations, perform personal assistant duties, and run fun activities. It’s also capable of contacting family members or a hospital in case of emergencies. For people who can’t afford a home care nurse, this is a very clever solution.

Thailand is becoming an aging society. Robots are here to help provide care.

ZEABUS 2018 AUV 

The ZEABUS team participated in the Singapore AUV Challenge in March 2019. Source: ZeabusAUV

The automotive sector is also making a huge shift towards the introduction of electric cars and semi-autonomous driving, with fully self-driving cars on the horizon. Thailand is the leading motor vehicle producer in ASEAN and sixth largest in the world for commercial vehicle production.

But what about self-driving submarines? The ZEABUS 2018 Autonomous Underwater Vehicle was developed by Kasetsart University and has been competing in the Robosub competition since 2014. Imagine being able to explore coral reefs like never before or driving through shipwrecks in places too dangerous for scuba divers.

Industrial development in Thailand

“Sophia,” the first AI robot to receive Saudi citizenship, made an appearance at the Manufacturing Expo held at the Bangkok International Trade & Exhibition Centre. Source: FeelGoodLuck / Shutterstock.com

The previous industrial revolutions saw advances in manufacturing and then computing power (sometimes referred to as the digital revolution). The next leap forward—the Fourth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0—in artificial intelligence, programming, and connectivity will finally unite manufacturing with computing power to redefine our industries.

The advent of smart factories—the intersection between smart devices, industrial robotics, and Internet of Things (IoT) remote sensors and controllers—is central to driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution taking place worldwide, including in Thailand. To this end, the Thai government’s development agenda, Thailand 4.0, aims to reduce inequality in the country by promoting modern, tech-driven solutions.

Read More: The Next Asian Digital Behemoth: Thailand’s 4.0 Revolution

Part of this policy has been prioritizing S-curve industries—a host of industries characterized by their projected growth, including next-generation automotives, smart electronics, affluent medical and wellness tourism, agriculture and biotechnology, and food for the future. All of these industries stand to benefit from A&R, ranging from iterative improvements to quantum leaps in productivity.

Now, with COVID-19 an ever-present threat looming over daily life and a dwindling workforce due to Thailand’s aging population, having robots and automated systems that can assist healthcare workers and maintain the country’s robust universal healthcare system will be indispensable moving forward.

Investing in Thai automation & robotics

Dinsow robot helping patients at Chaophya Hospital in Bangkok. Source: onairp / Shutterstock.com

Thailand is renowned as an automotive manufacturing hub, and robots are an indispensable part of that industry. With the most installations of industrial robots in ASEAN and the second-largest A&R market in the region after Singapore, it’s safe to say that Thailand is considered an important growth market for automation & robotics.

Thailand is looking to advance into the digital age and become a titan of technology. A&R is a key part of these aspirations, and the industry has seen billions of dollars of investment since 2017. 

With the country’s manufacturing capacity and favorable policy, there has never been a better time to automate your business or invest in research. The Board of Investment of Thailand is offering a host of generous incentives for A&R procurement and production, ranging from tax incentives like import duty exemptions for machinery and full waivers on corporate income tax for eight years to non-tax incentives like work permits and full foreign ownership of A&R companies and property.

The strategy appears to be paying off already. According to The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Global Innovation Index report 2021 (GII 2021), Thailand ranks 11th out of the 132 countries featured in terms of high-tech exports.

Human resources gets an upgrade

One of the programs that has been a magnet for innovative work in A&R is the “NIA Deep Tech Incubation Program@EEC,” spearheaded by the state-run National Innovation Agency (NIA) in partnership with several entities to create opportunities for deep tech innovation within the government’s developmental initiative, the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC).

Funding has also been directed to research, development, and education. As a result, Thailand sees 80,000 new science and engineering graduates trained in disciplines directly related to automation and robotics each year at world-class institutions, providing a solid foundation for skilled labor.

Examples of automation & robotics programs

King Mongkut’s University of Technology, North Bangkok (KMUTNB)
Bachelor of Engineering in Robotic Engineering and Automation System
King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi (KMUTT)
Bachelor of Engineering in Automation Engineering
King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Ladkrabang (KMITL)
Bachelor of Engineering in Automation EngineeringBachelor of Engineering in Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Engineering
Chulalongkorn University
Bachelor of Engineering in Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Engineering
Kasetsart University
Bachelor of Engineering in Electrical-Mechanical Manufacturing Engineering
Assumption University
Bachelor of Engineering in Mechatronics Engineering

Thailand has also been encouraging students to get involved in international robotics competitions and its student teams have seen great success on the international stage. Thai students have since gone on to achieve outstanding performances over the past few years, including winning the Robocup Rescue competition eight times since 2006, and three first-place finishes in Robo Soccer.

Investing in Thailand’s future

Robots have always captured our imagination, from Rosey in “The Jetsons” to Data in “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” But for a long time, that imagination has always been limited by what we know; we anthropomorphized robots and gave them human roles and motivations. The truth is that the landscape of automated robotics is more akin to an entire ecosystem that’s growing more diverse all the time.

Automation and robotics have the potential to disrupt several industries and increase productivity by leaps and bounds, so it’s important for the private and public sectors to be forward-thinking about the way in which they recruit, train, and educate, so they’re not left playing catch-up to a runaway (and potentially self-driving) train. Investing in A&R is not just a savvy economic strategy but an investment in Thailand’s future.

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Michael Sopon New

Michael graduated from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada where he studied Civil Engineering. After working in the engineering field for a few years, Michael moved to Thailand where he worked as a lecturer at Silpakorn University, a translator, a language consultant, and a construction manager before he began his acting career in 2013. Since then, he has worked in television, film, online platforms, and cartoons as an actor, writer, and producer.

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