Chinese robots wow at conference in Beijing

Updated 2016-10-23 11:19:35 Xinhua
Visitors view an intelligent robot at the 2016 World Robot Exhibition in Beijing, capital of China, Oct. 21, 2016. The exhibition is held from Oct. 21 to 25 as part of the World Robot Conference.

Visitors view an intelligent robot at the 2016 World Robot Exhibition in Beijing, capital of China, Oct. 21, 2016. The exhibition is held from Oct. 21 to 25 as part of the World Robot Conference.

An orange fish swims along an underwater pipeline, searching for leaks. After finding the holes, it alerts workers on shore with a loud sound.

This isn't a trailer for the latest Disney cartoon, but a real-life demonstration at the 2016 World Robot Conference (WRC) in Beijing.

The clever "mechanic" here is SmartTuna, a robot developed to help fix leaking underwater pipelines.

"Sometimes it's dangerous to go down into the water, so we developed the robot," said one of the demonstrators. "It is precise, small and smart."

More than 2,000 competitors from over 10 countries and regions, along with 300-plus top experts from 11 countries, are in Beijing to show off and share ideas during the five-day conference.

With an aging workforce and rising labor costs, China is determined to drive robot development. According to statistics released by the Qianzhan Industry Research Institute, the output value of China's homegrown robots in 2015 stood at 1.64 billion yuan (243 million U.S. dollars), a year-on-year increase of 55 percent.

At the conference, Vice Premier Liu Yandong urged enhanced research and development of the industry. She said related policies should be improved, human resources should be developed and global communication should be enhanced.

"I see a bright future in robots," said one of the visitors at the conference. "Our society is progressing, and so are our needs for robots in our daily lives."

INDUSTRIAL ROBOTS DOMINATE

Industrial robots were well-represented at this year's WRC. According to the organizer, industrial robots account for about 40 percent of all robots on display at the show, while the rest are service robots and specialized robots.

One conference participant showed Xinhua an industrial robot designed to produce "ejiao," or donkey-hide gelatin, a Traditional Chinese Medicine tonic made by boiling and refining donkey skin.

"With the robot, we can cover the entire ejiao production process automatically, including boiling, refining, storage, transportation, cutting and packaging," said Zhu Lei, vice president of HIT Robot Group based in northeast China's Harbin Province. "It is faster than traditional methods and saves on labor."

The Chinese market for industrial robots is huge. According to the China Robot Industry Association, 68,000 industrial robots were sold in China in 2015, up 20 percent compared to the same period of 2014. China accounted for about a quarter of robot sales globally in 2015, making the country the biggest market for industrial robots for three consecutive years.

Meanwhile, 32,996 industrial robots were manufactured in China last year, up 21.7 percent year on year.

The country wants to be able to make 150,000 industrial robots in 2020, 260,000 in 2025 and 400,000 by 2030. If achieved, the plan should help generate a market value of 600 billion yuan over the next decade.

HELPFUL AND "HUMAN"

Among the conference highlights are service robots, which industry insiders say have been used in catering, education, banking services, government institutions and sports.

Shanghai-based Hefu Holding Company Limited displayed a smart robot that plays badminton, one of the most popular sports in China. Holding a racket, the robot played with a human partner, always knowing just where and when to hit the shuttlecock.

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