UCLA Samueli School of Engineering professor and world-renowned robotics engineer, Dennis Hong, has been appointed an honorary ambassador to Seoul by the Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG).

Professor Dennis Hong appointed honorary ambassador of Seoul at the city’s announcement ceremonyHong, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, is also the founding director of the UCLA Robotics & Mechanisms Laboratory (RoMeLa), a facility for graduate and undergraduate robotics research with an emphasis on humanoid robots and novel mobile robot locomotion strategy.

Born in California but raised in South Korea, Hong’s bicultural and bilingual background enables him to serve as a bridge between the two worlds. Hong said he accepted the honor with great joy, seeing it as a great opportunity to give back to the community, benefitting both UCLA and the city of Seoul. Given that Los Angeles is home to the largest Korean community outside of South Korea, Hong believes the decision to select an ambassador from outside of Korea demonstrates that South Korea has recognized the stature and success of the Korean-American community of Los Angeles.

In appointing Hong, SMG shows its commitment to promote policies related to technology and artificial intelligence (AI) that will help position Seoul as a global smart city. Hong received his two-year ambassadorship in November 2020, and debuted his role with an online lecture on robots and AI, which was live-streamed on Seoul’s official YouTube channel.

In this lecture, Hong showcased robots developed by his RoMeLa team and explored important topics such as the future of AI technology, misconceptions about robots and best practices in approaching emerging AI technology.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hong is also committed to utilizing robots to improve public health. During a recent visit to South Korea, Hong demonstrated his robots’ capability for disinfecting hospitals and public buildings with challenging terrain. He will also participate in the city’s “Global and Safe Seoul” promotional video to encourage Korean citizens to abide by the government’s disease control and prevention measures. In addition, he will work with SMG as it continues to explore ways to expand existing technology to curb the spread of the virus through methods such as using QR codes for tracking systems, developing a real-time localized COVID-19 notification system and deploying additional automated thermal cameras in more city buildings.

Hong hopes to use his honorary ambassadorship to facilitate more cross-cultural collaborations and inspire technology leaders of the future to take on societal challenges.

“I hope this new connection between Seoul and UCLA will help shine a spotlight on UCLA’s excellent work in robotics and attract philanthropic opportunities for the new robotics institute being built at UCLA,” Hong said. “This honor serves as an important reminder that the immigrant community and Korean Americans including myself should embrace and be proud of our heritage.”

Hong’s research revolves around robot locomotion and manipulation, autonomous vehicles and humanoid robots. His work on robotic inventions, such as the amoeba-inspired whole skin locomotion and the world’s first car for the visually impaired, has earned him significant recognition as a top scientist by institutions such as Popular Science, the National Science Foundation and the National Academy of Engineering.

Ultimately, Hong hopes to use his honorary ambassadorship to facilitate more cross-cultural collaborations and inspire technology leaders of the future, especially those from the international community, to take on societal challenges.

Sarah Wang contributed to this story.

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