Driven by breakthrough AI, humanoid robots make grand entry

By MA SI | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2023-10-03 07:35
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A Walker X robot made by UBTech Robotics is displayed at an expo in Shanghai. LONG WEI/FOR CHINA DAILY

The China Electronics Society has also forecast that the market size of humanoid robots in China is expected to reach about 870 billion yuan ($119 billion) by 2030.

Robotics is considered the "crown jewel of manufacturing", with humanoid robots being the ultimate goal for many across the industry. Compared with industrial robots that are valued for their specialized mechanical capabilities, the main challenge in developing humanoid robots is how to perfectly simulate human processes of perception, cognition, decision-making, and execution under various scenarios, experts said.

Sensing the opportunities and challenges, both established Chinese tech companies and startups are working to strengthen their research and development capabilities in humanoid robots.

At the World Robot Conference 2023 in Beijing in August, humanoids took center stage, astonishing visitors with their mesmerizing dance routines, jaw-dropping somersaults and meticulously choreographed hand gestures.

UBTech Robotics, a Shenzhen-based AI and humanoid robotics company, showcased its Panda Robot and the Walker X, a large humanoid service robot.

The friendly Panda Robot was a superstar among curious visitors. The black-and-white "creature" named Youyou could introduce itself, pull off some tai chi moves and wield a calligraphy pen with flourish. It was the subject of many photographs by visitors at the venue. It introduced visitors to China's experience in smart cities, agricultural technologies and environmentally-friendly practices.

"In the past six to eight months, a large number of new humanoid robots companies have emerged, indicating the public's recognition of this industrial segment," said Fu Chunjiang, vice president of UBTech Robotics.

Humanoid robots, Fu said, can provide positive feedback and form a flywheel effect with general AI, promoting faster development of the sector.

Labor is still indispensable in the era of industrial automation. However, going forward, humanoid robots can collaborate with traditional automation equipment to solve complex scenarios of flexible unmanned operation, and independently complete difficult tasks, such as torque tightening and material handling, said Zhou Jian, founder, chairman and CEO of UBTech Robotics.

The company is exploring the application of humanoid robots in industrial scenarios, such as new energy vehicles and smart logistics, with leading domestic enterprises. Meanwhile, it is only a matter of time before humanoid robots enter the home, as they become more intelligent and provide more services to people, Zhou said.

Xiaomi Corp also showcased its emotion-detecting humanoid robot CyberOne.

Measuring 170 centimeters and weighing 52 kg, CyberOne supports up to 21 degrees of freedom of motion and achieves a real-time response speed that allows full human movement simulation.

"CyberOne's AI and mechanical capabilities are all self-developed by Xiaomi Robotics Lab. We have invested heavily in R & D spanning various areas, including software, hardware, and algorithms innovation," said Lei Jun, founder and chairman of Xiaomi.

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