UCLA Samueli School of Engineering professor Dennis Hong, a world-renowned robotics engineer, has been appointed an honorary ambassador to Seoul by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, it was announced Tuesday.

Hong, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, is also the founding director of the UCLA Robotics & Mechanisms Laboratory for graduate and undergraduate robotics research, with an emphasis on humanoid robots and novel mobile robot locomotion strategy.

“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,” said Hong, who was born in California and raised in South Korea.

“This honor serves as an important reminder that the immigrant community and Korean Americans including myself should embrace and be proud of our heritage,” he said.

Hong said he 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, which is the largest outside of South Korea.

Hong kicked off his two-year ambassadorship with an online lecture on robots and artificial intelligence, which was live-streamed on Seoul’s official YouTube channel. He showcased robots developed by his RoMeLa team and explored 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 committed to utilizing robots to improve public health. During a recent visit to South Korea, he demonstrated his robots’ capability for disinfecting hospitals and public buildings, and he plans to 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.

Hong 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, according to a Samueli School statement.

Hong’s research revolves around robot locomotion and manipulation, autonomous vehicles and humanoid robots. According to the Samueli School, “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,” according to the school.

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