n July last year, Naver, maker of the search engine known as the “Google of South Korea,” opened its new second headquarters, Naver 1784. The building’s name refers to a year commonly associated with the Industrial Revolution. Inside you’ll find a testament to automation’s growing global influence, in the form of 100 autonomous robots.
The robots, called Rookies, weave in and out between people and deliver parcels, coffee and lunch to Naver’s employees, all using 5G. They even have their own robots-only elevator, Roboport. Naver Labs, the company’s R&D division, launched using the new headquarters as a test bed for the Rookies. This November, it will arrange the robots in its new data center, Gak Sejong, in South Korea.
I visited the site last year, to see the robots firsthand. Rookies navigate through every inch of the headquarters, while robot arms drew pictures. Naver already owns a raft of subsidiaries, offering services like e-commerce, messaging, payments, digital comics, cloud and metaverse. And, just last week, the company launched its generative AI services built on its large language model HyperClova X, joining the generative AI space race.
The company believes people living in such innovative environments will benefit from the Naver Labs projects — including robots — in the not-too-distant future. The internet search engine wants to take part in the new kind of platform, robots, which it believes could replace mobile phones one day.
Naver Labs‘ research is aimed at five spaces: robotics (Around, Around G and Ambidex), AI (ARC System), digital twins (Alike and Hybrid HD mapping), computer vision/augmented reality (Indoor AR Navigation and Ahead) and autonomous driving technology.
“We have a massive test bed where we can develop and operate robots in the real world, highly skilled engineers and researchers, and powerful cloud infrastructure,” Humenberger explains. “It is quite difficult to secure even one of these conditions, and it is safe to say Naver is the sole company that is equipped with all of them.”
NLE has more than 100 researchers and scientists in the fields of AI, ranging from core machine learning to UX, according to Humenberger. Naver Labs did not disclose the number of staff in Korea due to confidentiality issues.
South Korean tech behemoths, such as Samsung, LG, Hyundai and Doosan, are working in the pipeline of robotics development, from industrial robots to cooking, serving, and delivery robots, and ploughing capital into the robotics space. Earlier this year, Samsung said it plans to roll out an EX1 robot to assist elders in exercising, and its research division is developing a Samsung robot platform. Doosan Robotics, a robotics unit of the Korean manufacturing firm Doosan, has filed for an initial public offering, according to its filing.