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China can lead in robotics transformation, French entrepreneur says

Updated : 2017-08-30
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China can lead in robotics transformation, French entrepreneur says

Catherine Simon, chairman and CEO of French technological consulting firm Innorobo. [Photo provided to]

In Catherine Simon's smartphone, there are hundreds of pictures of robots, most of which were took by her at the World Robot Conference 2017 (WRC 2017) held in Beijing last week.

As chairman and CEO of French technological consulting firm Innorobo and a speaker at the main forum of WRC 2017, she said she wants to find more time to visit the robotics exhibition in her busy schedule and to understand Chinese robotic companies better.

"It's amazing to see so many new Chinese robotic companies that I have never heard before here, especially the service robotic ones," Simon said in an interview with on the sideline of WRC 2017.

She moved from booth to booth at the exhibition, taking pictures, trying to make sense of robots that interest or confuse her and evaluating which Chinese company might be ready for Europe.

"The design of this robot is very strange for Europeans," She said when a humanoid robot dancing at the show got her attention.

She pointed to it and said, "big head and thick arms…it is too chunky".

Simon believed it will be difficult for this kind of robots to enter European market.

"It is because of the design. A typical French humanoid robot usually has graceful figure. Sometimes the problem is just with the shape of the plastic cover, while the inner technology is fine."

Having worked in the robotic field for 10 years, Simon has realized a closer understanding should be reached between Chinese and European companies.

"When you ask Chinese people to think of robotics in Europe, most of them only consider Germany. However, besides Germany, every European country has its own unique advantages in robotic field."

Simon said Europeans also need to change the old image of China in their mind.

"China, having been more like a supplier or subcontractor in the past 20 years, is described as manufacturing giant, big market or lots of money in Europe. But China is not just a manufacturer, there is innovation here and many companies are actively developing robots with their own technological advantages."

When Simon saw the exhibition hall was crowded with families fascinated with robotics, she believed China has some strength beyond money and market size.

"These people have the will to adopt new technologies to improve their way of life, while in Europe, we have certain fear of robots like robots will steal our jobs or robots will take control of our humanity."

With the transformative power, supports from government, market, money, open attitude and people's willing to cooperate in a win-win strategy, China has everything it takes to become a great leader in the technology transformation and robotics transformation, Simon said.

"I think China also has the extraordinary potential of leading new way of globalization of the world," she said.

She said that a French robotic company CEO also attending the WRC 2017 told her what is happening in China is incredible and he will come back and find the right partner.

"He said the only problem is Chinese companies' will to cooperate is too strong sometimes. There are too many companies and too many contacts, so they do not know which one is the right one," Simon said.

"It takes time for French companies to make cooperation that they need to tell which company is like the flying star that will disappear and which one can be their long-term partner. If I visit a company once, I just start knowing it. I might need to visit it two, three, or four times."

In China, what we have experienced is some companies want us to sign first and then to get to know each other, but we want to know each other first, understand each other first and then think about signing an agreement and start making business, Simon said.

She believed the cooperation can bring benefits for both Chinese and French companies.

"Sometimes there are Chinese robotic companies being accused of violating intellectual property rights. It is a pity and they actually do not need to do that," Simon said.

"What I see is the first version of the product might be a copy, but the second version becomes better than the original one because the Chinese company can get a huge amount of consumer feedback from the market."

Simon said if there is a long-term cooperation agreement between companies, they can share intellectual property and consumer feedback.

"The European market is relatively small and fragmented. From the consumer feedback of Chinese market, we can improve the product together. It's a win-win collaboration."