Cambodians have generally only seen futuristic technology like robots being used in advanced nations like Japan, South Korea or China. However, in recent years, a number of young Cambodian scientists have made staggering advances in the field of robotics.

One of the best examples is a team of researchers at the Cambodia Academy of Digital Technology (CADT), who have developed the Kingdom’s first Khmer-speaking robot. The robot is employed to greet visitors at the academy.

“Hello, my name is Sok Chea,” said the robot, as it greeted passing guests. “I can provide you with information regarding the staff and other CADT-related topics. Do you have any questions for me?”

The robot was unveiled at the March 26 National Science, Technology and Innovation Day, organised by the Ministry of Industry, Science, Technology and Innovation at the Koh Pich Convention and Exhibition Center.

Peng Lykheang, a 24-year-old researcher for the academy’s artificial intelligence (AI) team, told The Post that there are more than 20 members in his team.

He explained that his team has produced a robot that welcomes guests to CADT and even answers some basic inquiries.

“He is the first point of contact for many visitors. He can answer questions about the staff and give directions to people who are unsure where they need to go,” he said.

According to Lykheang, the robot stands 57.4cm tall and weighs just 5.48kg.

He described Sok Chea’s unique features.

“Built largely with parts from Japan, the robot is equipped with sensors that allow it to recognise human faces, as well as identify its surrounding environment. Sok Chea runs on a rechargeable battery, with a two hour life. An internet connection allows it to access the latest chatbot technology,” he said.

The team has developing the robot since 2021, as part of a project supported by the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications’ Capacity Building Research and Development Fund.

“We are working on three specific technologies – chat board technology that can understand the Khmer language, Khmer language pronunciation, and the translation of writing into audio, or voice,” said Lykheang.

He added that the project required over two years of research to reach this stage, including more than twelve months assembling the robot itself. There were many challenges involved, particularly in identifying data sources that would enable the robot to ‘learn’.

“In the future, my team and I will develop a larger model with improved communication skills and a better understanding of the environment around it. We also have plans to develop robots that will serve other institutions,” he added.

Prime Minister Hun Sen presided over the March 26 technology day event that premiered the robot.

Prime Minister Hun Sen looks at Khmer-speaking robot displayed at the March 26 National Science, Technology and Innovation Day at the Koh Pich Convention and Exhibition Centre. CADT

“The government launched the ‘Roadmap on Skills Development in Cambodia 2022-2035’ and the ‘National Research Agenda 2025’ to address challenges and create new opportunities for Cambodian people. The discovery of new technologies will lead to additional job opportunities, in accordance with the slogan ‘New Technologies, New Job Opportunities’,” he said.

He added that the technology roadmaps have been issued, in the fields of agriculture, education and health, with three more to follow.

“We are gearing up to introduce technology roadmaps for the energy, tourism and digital sectors. They will lay out pathways for the development of tech products and services that will meet the real-world needs of the Kingdom,” he concluded.

Lykheang explained that the technology academy was established in 2014 under the auspices of the telecommunications ministry.

CADT is composed of three distinct institutions: the Institute of Digital Technology (IDT), which deals with the training of civil servants, the Institute of Digital Governance (IDG), and the Institute of Digital Research and Innovation (IDRI).

“I am pleased to say that many young people are heavily involved in the fields of science and innovation. The academy has trained many students and scholars since it opened, and the Kingdom is seeing the benefits,” added Lykheang.

He recommended that more students consider studying in these emerging fields, as the Kingdom needed as many qualified people as possible.

“We are moving forward, but if we want to become regional leaders in tech, we will need far more human resources than we currently have,” he concluded.