Thailand unveils robotics development plan

Thailand’s government approved a master plan last week to develop a robotics industry with the goal of drawing more than $2 billion in investments over the next five years as part of its Thailand 4.0 advanced development national strategy.

Drafted by the Ministry of Industry, the master plan was approved by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. It contains a raft of measures to help build a robotics industry and promote the use of robotics by other industries. These include large tax breaks and incentives from the Board of Investment designed to encourage businesses to adopt robotics technologies in their manufacturing and production processes, and is especially generous to industries that develop robotic technologies.

Industry Minister Uttama Savanayana told reporters that integrating robotics into manufacturing and services would result in increased productivity. As part of the plan, the government will support the creation of a corps of systems integrators – experts who solve production and operational challenges using the highest and most appropriate technologies available. Thailand has about 200 such experts, but the government wants to see 1,400 in five years.

About 30 percent of manufacturers in Thailand are already using robotics, but the government wants that to rise to 50 percent in five years. It has set a target to see industries develop 50 prototypes for robotics and automation systems in that time. The minister said the development plan should reduce the import of robotics and automation systems by nearly $4 billion annually.

The government will also help fund several centers of excellence for robotics in collaboration with eight universities and institutes of higher learning. One of the most prominent is the Institute of Fields Robotics (FIBO) at King Mongkut’s University of Technology, one of the most highly rated universities in the country.

The Robotics Tomorrow trade industry website said that the automotive and electronics industries in Thailand are important sources of robotics technologies development and adoption in the Kingdom. The food and food processing industries have also been integrating robotics and automation at an increasing rate, and the government’s promotion of “smart farming” has also seen the technologies beginning to appear in agriculture.

“Thailand’s world-class medical facilities with more than 1,000 public and 300 private hospitals drive the demand for service robots in order to enhance to quality of life nationally and globally,’’ the website said.

It cited healthcare robots already developed by Thais, such as Elderly Care Robot developed by CT Asia; Fhasai, robot-assisted therapy for children with autism spectrum disorders, developed by Mahidol University; and Sensible Tab, arm rehabilitation robot, developed by TCELS and Tmgi.