In July of the previous year, Naver, often dubbed as the “Google of South Korea,” unveiled its new second headquarters, Naver 1784, which pays homage to the Industrial Revolution’s landmark year. What sets this building apart is the presence of 100 autonomous robots known as “Rookies” that seamlessly navigate through the premises, offering services like parcel delivery, coffee dispensing, and lunch delivery to Naver’s employees—all powered by 5G connectivity. These robots even have their dedicated elevator, aptly named Roboport. Naver Labs, the company’s research and development division, is using the headquarters as a testing ground for these robotic marvels and plans to deploy them in its new data center, Gak Sejong, in South Korea this November.
As a multifaceted internet giant, Naver has delved into various domains, including e-commerce, messaging, payments, digital comics, cloud services, and the metaverse. Recently, the company launched generative AI services based on its substantial language model, HyperClova X, joining the race in the generative AI arena. Naver’s exploration into robotics, artificial intelligence, and autonomous driving technology suggests a broader vision for its future growth.
Naver’s ventures into these cutting-edge technologies began in 2013 when it initiated projects focused on robots, autonomous driving, and AI through its R&D division. To bolster its research and development capabilities, Naver acquired Xerox Research Centre Europe (XRCE) in Grenoble, France, six years ago. XRCE specializes in AI, machine learning, computer vision, and natural language processing and has since transformed into Naver Labs.
The company envisions a future where people benefit from Naver Labs’ innovations, including robots, in various settings, from homes and hospitals to museums, shopping malls, and airports. Naver aspires to participate in the emerging platform of robots, potentially replacing mobile phones in the future. Naver Labs’ research focuses on five key areas: 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.
Naver Labs aims to create robots that serve practical purposes in everyday life, including home assistants, hospital aides, and more. In the short term, it concentrates on last-mile delivery applications in smart cities and buildings. While many of its long-term projects are yet to be commercialized, Naver continually applies its ongoing research and the latest technology to enhance the performance of its robots, such as the Rookies, at the 1784 building and the Gak data center. Additionally, the company offers robot-as-a-service (RaaS) through the Naver Cloud platform.
One notable example of Naver’s RaaS is the ARC system, powered by the Naver Cloud Platform. ARC serves as an intelligence system for robots, enabling Naver’s Rookies to see, recognize, and operate efficiently. ARC is not just a control system but the “eye and brain” of the robots, eliminating the need for GPS access. Instead, it helps the robots recognize their surroundings and find the most efficient routes. ARC Brain connects service infrastructure in real-time and updates data and algorithms in the cloud, further enhancing the robots’ capabilities. Naver asserts that the ARC system can reduce manufacturing costs and battery consumption by offloading tasks to the cloud.
Naver Labs Europe (NLE) and Naver Labs Korea (NLK) share common goals and parallel research areas, with a focus on AI and its various applications. While NLE concentrates on fundamental AI research and addressing future AI challenges, NLK specializes in robotics, systems engineering, platform engineering, and operations. NLE’s primary research area involves AI technology for robotics, encompassing computer vision, sequential decision-making, combinational optimization, and natural language interaction. NLE aims to improve robot perception, navigation, and interaction with humans.
Naver’s reliance on AI-powered computer vision, machine learning, and natural language processing plays a vital role in advancing its robots’ capabilities. An example of their research in action is the CroCo project, a foundation model for 3D understanding from single images, aiding robot perception, localization, navigation, and human-robot interaction.
Naver Labs boasts over 100 researchers and scientists in AI fields, covering core machine learning, user experience, and more. Their South Korean operations maintain confidentiality regarding staff numbers.
South Korean tech giants, including Samsung, LG, Hyundai, and Doosan, are actively involved in the robotics sector, investing in various areas such as industrial robots, robotic assistance for the elderly, and delivery robots. These endeavors underscore South Korea’s commitment to driving innovation in robotics and AI.
In summary, Naver’s foray into robotics and AI reflects its ambition to shape the future of technology. With its robust research capabilities, cloud infrastructure, and real-world test bed, Naver is poised to make substantial contributions to robotics and AI, paving the way for a high-tech future.
By Impact Lab