Insight
A brilliant future for robots
Last Updated:2013-08-23 17:05 | CE.cn
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By Lin Huocan, Zhuang Ting & Wang Guo

In the RoboCup 2013 concluded not long ago, the Chinese team, coming from Beijing Information Technology University, defeated the host team from Eindhoven University of Technology, with a score of 3:2, realizing China's long cherished dream of football championship, although it is in the field of artificial intelligence.

As we applause the wonderful performance of our robot team, one fact we can't neglect is that intelligent applications like robots are rapidly spreading into many areas and are becoming an important trend. The rapid development of robot can not only catalyze reform and change people's lifestyle and production model, but also create huge room for industrial development and serve as an important support to the development of future manufacturing industry.

Versatility of robots

"This noodle cut by the robot is better than that made by human, as it is better proportioned", Mr. Zhao, owner of Beijing Jinhe Pared Noodle, is very satisfied with his new noodle-paring machine: it would cost RMB 40,000-50,000 Yuan annually to hire a noodle-paring chef, but the robot costs only over RMN 10,000 Yuan. More important, the robot can pare more than 100 times in a minute, and it can work around the clock. The electricity fee daily is merely RMB 3 Yuan.

And robots can do more than just paring noodles. Recently, the Advanced Manufacturing Centre of Hefei Materials Research Institute of Chinese Academy of Sciences succeeded in developing restaurant waiting robots that use only made-in-China parts; these robots not only can communicate with customers in voice using fixed terms, but also provide shopping guidance service in shopping malls.

Maybe in the future you would not be surprised if you walk into a mall and is met by a robot. As they merge into various aspects of people's life, robots are also quietly changing production models. At present, an increasing number of divisions of the service sector are using robot technology, which is promoting the change of the industrial structure and competition pattern of the service industry and changing the supply-demand structure of the labor market.

In Shanghai, a large local construction company has worked with higher education institutions and succeeded in developing several special-purpose robots like high altitude welding robot; these robots can reduce labor intensity and risk and ensure construction quality. In Sany Heavy Industry's Lingang Industrial Park put into operation recently, we can see more than200 robots doing their jobs: cutting, welding, coating, and rubber coating, etc., each as good as five qualified workers.

Song Xiaogang, Secretary General and deputy director of the expert commission of China Robot Industry Alliance, points out that as the "population bonus decreases gradually, the growth model of the manufacturing industry that relies on cheap labor will inevitably be impacted. Industrial robots in industrial production can replace people to do some works that are monotonous, repetitive, time consuming and environmental harsh. At the same time, the industrial robot can also provide stably high efficiency and high quality products that greatly accelerate the speed of the production line, directly reduce the cost of production and help enterprises to become more competitive.

Huge room for industrial development

As robot technology is restructuring the production mode of the manufacturing industry and promoting the transformation from "made in China" into "intelligently made in China", the technology itself also contains huge market potential. At present, the number of robot-using enterprises in China's manufacturing industry keeps rising, and there is a craze for using robots in such areas assembling, glue dispensing, and transport.

According to statistics from the International Federation of Robotics, China's industrial robot market had increased at an average annual rate of 25 to 30 percent from 2005 to 2012. It is estimated that China's industrial robot market may be expected to grow at 23 to 36 percent annually in the next decade.

Experts point out that against the backdrop of decreasing population bonus, it is necessary for China's industrialization cause to make reforms in order to create new competitiveness, and more and more robots will be used on production lines.

Service robots are also growing rapidly. As China's citizen consumption structure enters into the phase of accelerated optimization and adjustment, there emerges huge demand for technology products and technology services. Cleaning robots, chatting robots, nursing robots and many other kinds of robots have been invented, and there is a lot they can do in service areas like medical care, tending the aged, nursing infants, and food and beverage. Moreover, the development of entertainment robot will become a new direction of premium toys.

Song Xiaogang points out that because service robots are closely linked to people's daily life, there could be vaster room for their applications once the technology and products are more mature. According to statistics, growth of demand for robots in China is one of the fastest in the world. Last year, 22,600 robots were sold, making a total of about 70,000, increasing by 51 percent year on year. Growths in developed countries like the US and Germany have all been below 40 percent. It is estimated that in 2014 China will have the most sales of industrial robots.

Nonetheless, experts point out that China's robot market is still at the developing stage; Chinese brands are weak and insignificant while foreign brands take up more than 90 percent of the market; key parts still relies on import; core technologies still need to be improved; industrial management system needs to be completed; there is still a rather long distance before China can achieve the industrialization of robots; and the competitiveness and influence of the robot industry still needs to be improved.

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