While traditional technology hubs such as Silicon Valley are what come to mind when one thinks of robotics, new players are quickly rising to prominence—Hong Kong foremost among them.
Robotics might not be a new field, but it’s one that’s currently experiencing considerable growth and change. Automation and robotics are becoming critical components of businesses around the world—and in our everyday lives. At the same time, research and development is not only quickly advancing the field but also creating new applications for these technologies in an ever-widening range of industries.
While traditional technology hubs such as Silicon Valley are what come to mind when one thinks of robotics, new players are quickly rising to prominence—Hong Kong foremost among them. Today, Hong Kong is poised to become a global leader in robotics.
So what’s behind Hong Kong’s sudden rise?
China, one of the world’s largest economies and leading manufacturers, is undergoing a transformation. Rising wages, combined with an effort by the Chinese government to reposition China in the global market, have necessitated a move away from traditional methods of low-cost manufacturing.
Chinese manufacturers are increasingly turning to robotics in an effort to achieve process efficiencies. According to a survey by the International Federation of Robotics, China is not only the largest and fastest-growing robotics market in the world, but is estimated to account for a full third of the global supply of industrial robots by 2018. With our proximity to China, companies based in Hong Kong are perfectly positioned to supply this rising need.
While China’s demand for industrial robotics may help drive the current boom, Hong Kong’s robotics sector has already developed far beyond the factory floor. We’re seeing local successes not simply in automation, but also in animatronics and artificial intelligence, with companies focused on healthcare, safety, hospitality, and more.
In a recent article, the South China Morning Post named their top five Hong Kong robotics firms, showcasing the diversity in this growing sector. On their list were big names like Hanson Robotics, which creates animatronics for theme parks and is developing androids for hospital work; Insight Robotics, which creates remote wildfire detection systems; and Rehab Robotics, whose products assist healthcare patients to achieve better recovery outcomes.
The Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP) is also having a significant impact on the rise of the local robotics industry. A government-funded center established in 2001, HKSTP is dedicated to building and nurturing a vibrant innovation and technology ecosystem in Hong Kong through incubation programs, business support services, angel and VC financing, and more. Of particular note is their recent facilitation of a robotics-focused alliance between major industry associations, universities, and multiple R&D centers.
HKSTP also organizes and hosts the annual APAC Innovation Summit, a series of themed symposia, which this June included a robotics-focused program. More than 600 international robotics experts gathered here to connect, discuss, and plan the future of the industry. This event, and other opportunities that bring international robotics movers-and-shakers to Hong Kong, speaks strongly to the area’s increasing leadership and influence.
With our tech-savvy population and strong education sector, Hong Kong has developed a strong and experienced talent pool with the range of resources that companies need to stay on the cutting edge. In fact, with five of the city’s six engineering schools currently ranked in the Global Top 100, Hong Kong is earning a reputation as an excellent place for research and development.
To see evidence of this, one need look no further than the return of DJI—the world’s largest drone manufacturer—to Hong Kong. While DJI was conceived in Hong Kong in 2006, founder Frank Wang Tao chose Shenzhen, Guangdong, as its headquarters, citing Hong Kong’s frustrating lack of government support and funding. Times have clearly changed, as DJI established an R&D facility in the Hong Kong Science and Technology Park earlier this year.
Hong Kong is also an ideal location for startups with technologies that require strong IP protection given its high quality and affordable technical, legal and financial resources that are available all within a compact, accessible city.
With the right talent, increasing government support, and rising industry engagement, Hong Kong provides an environment where innovative companies can excel. Given that success breeds success, and that so many local companies have achieved or are on the rise to international recognition, it looks like Hong Kong will play a critical role in the robotics industry for years to come.
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As the Head of TMT and Head of High Growth Technology and Innovation Group for KPMG in Hong Kong, Irene Chu actively works with leading technology companies and emerging companies to support various stages of their development and growth strategies. She and her team also collaborate with government agencies, startups incubators, early stage investors, universities and corporates to help promote and support the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Hong Kong.