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China Breakthroughs: Robots get real and trendy

Editor: Qian Ding 丨CCTV.com

10-23-2017 14:37 BJT

Full coverage: China Breakthroughs

By Tom McGregor, CCTV.com Panview commentator and editor

A few decades ago, many sci-fi (science-fiction) novels had depicted robot characters with AI (artificial intelligence) interacting with society. They were built by humans to think and act just like regular folks. The tales qualified as pure fantasies just a few years ago, but that’s no longer the case in recent times on account of the latest robotics’ advancements.

Present-day robots are showing the capabilities to reshape society and the global manufacturing sector in a dramatic fashion, because the life-like devices can assist people at home with routine chores and they are expected to replace many factory workers in key tasks on the manufacturing floors.

Meanwhile, China faces a rapidly aging population along with serious worker shortages and rising labor costs. The Chinese economy would benefit from major upgrades in robotics technology.

China is recognized as the most attractive market for the robot industry, partly because Chinese government officials, business people and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) educators are promoting hi-tech conferences, forums and competitions.

New robots for at home and work

In August 2017, the five-day World Robot Conference was held in Beijing, where super sophisticated robots are telling us, the world, especially China, is moving closer to an “intelligent society.” China is seeking to promote the use of more advanced technologies in its factories and create high-end products that redefine the meaning of “Made in China.”

(A welding robot on display at the 2017 World Robot Conference in Beijing, Aug 25,2017. Photo from Xinhua)
(A welding robot on display at the 2017 World Robot Conference in Beijing, Aug 25,2017. Photo from Xinhua)

During the World Robot Conference, various robots performed a wide range of tasks to the visitors, from talking with people, playing the piano and to playing the Go game and doing surgery.

Medical robots to treat patients

Chinese scientists also play leading roles in developing robots that can effectively treat patients and even help perform life-saving surgeries. The city of Shenzhen will serve as host of the World Medical Robotics Conference (WMRC) in November.

According to the WMRC’s website, “Hosted by the Medical Robotics Society, organized by ROBO Health Institute and co-organized by Chinese Society of Biomedical Engineering, the … WMRC is a huge milestone in medical robotics field combining scientific researches, clinical and industrial applications.”

The theme for the conference this year, “Belt & Road, Medical Robotics from Scientific Research to Clinical Application.” The conference aims to integrate and boost communications between Chinese and Western-based robotics scientists and developers.

Go shopping at Robo Supermarket

More than 57,000 industrial robots were sold in China in 2014, according to the International Federation of Robotics. Chinese industries have made purchase orders of 400,000 units through the end of 2017.

Consequently, robot manufacturers are struggling to meet growing demand and sales targets, but there’s good news coming. A ‘Robo Supermarket’ had opened in Sept. 2015 in Foshan, Guangdong Province in South China.

Here’s a marketplace for incubators and robotics developers to interact with the public, which is ideally situated in the city’s Shinde District, China’s homeland for industrial robotics.

"The supermarket will be conducive to the development of the robotics industry in China.” Yang Yang, general manager of Changsha Chain Robotics Co., told Shanghai Daily. “It will bring the world’s latest technology into one platform.”

AI robots are coming and it’s time for acceptance

Today’s robotics developers in China are striving to build robots that can improve the quality of life for all people around the world. They hold a vision to upgrade efficiency on factory floors while reducing labor costs with the introduction of more industrial robots.

Chinese manufacturers are leading in this field. Taiwan-based Foxconn, which has many huge factories operating in southern China and is famous for making Apple devices, has reconverted most of its factories to rely on industrial robots. More than 40,000 robots have been installed in its factories in southern China.

Many other Chinese companies have opened up factories, including Alibaba Group, where robots, not human laborers, are performing important tasks on production lines. We can anticipate further advancements coming soon.

Accordingly, leading innovators of the Chinese robotics industry continue to bring sci-fi-style AI robots to life in order to benefit all of humanity.

Rethink robotics; rethink the future

The robotics industry is gaining steam in China and the surrounding Asia-Pacific region, but the U.S. market remains the favorite nation of choice for robot developers. Yet, Silicon Valley does not stand alone as a hub to attract the hearts and minds of the robot community.

You can expect to see Chinese cities, Wuhan, Beijing, Shenzhen, Xiamen and Shanghai emerge as key centers for the research and development of industrial and service robots.

The Central Government has highlighted in its “Made in 2025” plan that officials, academics, scientists, business people and students are encouraged to focus on the robotics industry.

Beiijing has set nationwide goals to mass produce over 100,000 industrial robots annually. And so far, target goals have been reached. What’s more amazing is that robots continue to develop to new levels unimagined before. No telling how innovative the robotics sector in China will become in the years ahead.


(The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Panview or CCTV.com. )

Panview offers a new window of understanding the world as well as China through the views, opinions, and analysis of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.

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