Updates on China robotic industry, the hottest story in automation

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With government encouragement and bottomless capital, China’s automation sector is outpacing many players of the world. Let’s take a look at the latest updates:

The World Robot Conference wrapped up (15-19th August) showcases both China’s dominance in the robotics field and the industry’s diverse applications for bots.

This year’s conference attracted over 166 domestic and international companies. The World Robot Conference also brought in over 500 items displayed from those vendors, wowing thousands.

Fighting robots: The robots showcased weren’t just the helpful robots of the future. There were 57 robot fighting teams that took their creations head-to-head on the World Robot Conference stage.

While the robot-fights might have captured the attention of the adults, children who attended the convention were entertained by testing, building, and wiring their own robots.

By Shelby Rogers/Interestingengineering

China shows off automated doctors, teachers and combat stars

Robots that can diagnose diseases, play badminton and wow audiences with their musical skills are among the machines China hopes could revolutionise its economy, with visitors to a Beijing exhibition offered a glimpse of an automated future.

A mechanical arm — designed to teach children — painted an elegant Chinese character while a robotic fish explored its tank and a bat flapped its mechanical wings overhead.

China’s iFlytek, a specialist in speech recognition systems, presented a new “medical assistant” robot at the Beijing show which it said was able to help identify up to 150 diseases and ailments — even passing a national medical qualification exam with a high score.

By Julien Girault/HongkongFreePress

Industrial robot sales in China hit record

The China International Robot Industry Summit, held July in Shanghai, said the sales and growth rate of industrial robots hit records in 2017. Among industrial robots, 37,825 were domestically manufactured, up 29.8 per cent year-on-year.

“As robotics is expanding into nearly every industry, Chinese robot makers should realise the gap between them and foreign brands, take advantage of China’s robotics development boom and learn from foreign experience to help China grow from the world’s largest robot market into a robot manufacturing power,” said Qu Daokui, president of China Robot Industry Alliance and chief executive of the Shenyang-based Siasun Robot and Automation company.

According to Mr Qu, foreign robot makers sold 103,191 robots to China in 2017, up 71.9 per cent from a year earlier. Although Chinese domestic suppliers had expanded their market share to 32.7 per cent in 2016, the trend was reversed in 2017, as their share shrank to 26.8 per cent.

By Wang Ying/China Daily 

Robots Are Almost As Good As Humans When Collecting Bad Debts

There are plenty of artificial intelligence (AI) trends emerging from China these days, but arguably the most intriguing are those that show just how close humans are to meeting their match at the hands of machines. This week, we saw 100Credit, a big data platform company, has launched a low-cost robot called “Little 100Credit” that reportedly collects bad debts over the phone 90% as often as its human counterparts . Yes, a robot calls up customers who owe money and helps people repay their debts almost as well as a human.

Little 100Credit (article in Chinese) consists of four modules that identify voice, understand conversational context, synthesize voices, and manage a conversation. You can think of it like if your Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa could carry out a very specific conversation with almost human-like precision (in this case, the robot can only talk about collecting on your bad debt). The technologies used are similar to technologies used by most AI driven machines; deep learning, reinforcement learning, and knowledge graphs.

But wouldn’t someone who doesn’t want to pay their bills just not answer their phone? You’d think so, but surprisingly enough, debtors do pick up quite often. This low-cost robot learns from debtors objections and updates its software to handle the most common pushbacks, incorporating that feedback to make every subsequent call a little more likely to close. Little 100Credit also performs emotional analysis and can identify users interruptions and can respond quickly and naturally.

Bay McLaughlin/Forbes

A woman touches a robot at the 2018 World Robot Conference in Beijing on August 15, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / WANG Zhao

China is home to the largest and fastest-growing robotics market on earth. Chinese government contracts, such as the Made in China 2025 plan, are fueling R&D into AI technologies and its investments are now rivaling Silicon Valley startups. So far, Chinese activity in robotics and AI is on a rampage and there are no signs of a slowdown in innovation.

Despite China’s reliance on a ready labor force and investments in high-end technologies, its developments in these areas are actually lagging compared to other countries. As of now, most of China’s high-end technology products remain out of the global export market due to inferior quality and weak distribution channels.

Chinese companies such as Huawei, Xiaomi, Hollysys and SAIC serve only the local market and have low impact on the global export market. It’s for this reason that China is racing to innovate in automation.

-Jeremie Capron, Director of Research at ROBO Global, a benchmark index series tracking robotics and AI companies.

Trade tensions may power down China’s robot industry

At a trade show in southern Beijing, children and parents crowd around a group of pink and blue dancing robots that resemble toddler-sized Power Rangers.

The robots – wired with wide LED smiles and cutesy personalities – are the brainchild of Chinese-American company AvatarMind, built to be futuristic retail workers, teacher’s assistants and household helpers.

But even as the company polishes off production of 2,000 units, AvatarMind and companies like it are rethinking plans for international expansion in the face of widening tariffs.

Analysts say there is an obvious link to direct tariffs on industrial machinery and robot parts, as well as domestic manufacturers’ putting off production during trade talks.

Although robots aren’t directly named, the U.S. list includes electronics, auto parts and other items that require automated manufacturing and robots. An earlier round of $34 billion tariffs on Chinese goods lists industrial robots.

Cate Cadell/Reuters

China takes surveillance to new heights with flock of robotic Doves

Sources told the South China Morning Post that more than 30 military and government agencies have deployed the birdlike drones and related devices in at least five provinces in recent years.

One part of the country that has seen the new technology used extensively is the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region in China’s far west. The vast area, which borders Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, is home to a large Muslim population and has long been viewed by Beijing as a hotbed for separatism. As a result, the region and its people have been subjected to heavy surveillance from the central government.

The new “spy birds” programme, code-named “Dove”, is being led by Song Bifeng, a professor at Northwestern Polytechnical University in Xian, capital of northwestern China’s Shaanxi province.

Unlike unmanned aerial vehicles with fixed wings or rotor blades, the new drones actually mimic the flapping action of a bird’s wings to climb, dive and turn in the air.

Another researcher involved in the Dove project said the aim was to develop a new generation of drones with biologically inspired engineering that could evade human detection and even radar.

-Stephen Chen/South China Morning Post

Staff Editor

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