Rapid rise of robots expected

2015-11-24 09:14Global Times Editor: Li Yan

Sector growing quickly, but big challenges remain: experts

Robotics is at the forefront of innovation in China and service robots are expected to see rapid development, officials and experts said Monday at the World Robot Conference 2015 held in Beijing.

As part of the push to boost China's manufacturing ability, robotics was listed as a high priority in the "Made in China 2025" plan, Vice President Li Yuanchao said Monday during the opening ceremony for the conference, which runs from Monday until Wednesday.

The global robotics market is currently dominated by industrial robots, which account for 80 percent of the market, Li noted. But in the long term, service robots are also likely to take a large share, he said.

China accounted for about 56 percent of the total supply of industrial robots in 2014 and the nation will remain the most important driver of growth for the sector in the next three years, Arturo Baroncelli, president of the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), said at the conference.

The service robot sector has been growing rapidly in recent years, and there are now over 300 service robot manufacturers worldwide, 15 percent of which are startups, Baroncelli noted.

"During the Singles' Day shopping festival on November 11, the sales of a floor cleaning robot surged into the top 10 for home appliance sales," Li said.

The market in China for service robots is expected to be worth at least 20 billion yuan ($3.13 billion) by 2017 and the sector will continue to draw plentiful investment, according to a report sent to the Global Times on Monday by Beijing-based market research firm Analysys International.

Industry experts are also bullish about the development of service robots in the next decade.

"Some products' market penetration, for example home cleaning robots, is much lower in China than in the US at the moment," He Yun, an analyst at Analysys International, told the Global Times on Monday.

He noted that service robots could also be widely used for commercial purposes in the near future.

New requirements for both industrial and service robots have been highlighted at the conference, as their performance is still unsatisfactory and the development of service robots is a long way from expectations 15 years ago, said Wang Tianran, director of the State Robotics Engineering Research Center, during the conference.

"Human advantages such as learning and logical reasoning have to be better connected with robots' advantages such as precision and repeatability," Wang said.

Staff sharing working environments with robots is one type of ideal connection between robots and humans today, Rainer Bischoff, head of corporate research at Germany-based automation firm KUKA, told the Global Times Monday.

"All the non-ergonomic, dull and dangerous work is done by robots, and work that requires human perception and manipulation abilities is done by the workers," Bischoff said, noting that the robots will not replace humans, but can increase productivity and improve quality.

As labor costs rise in China, one way to maintain competitiveness is to invest in automation, Alois C. Knoll, a professor with Technische Universitat Munchen, told the Global Times on Monday.

"Becoming able to instruct the robots with suitable human-robot interfaces is necessary for both [industrial and service robots]," Knoll said.

Despite progress in developing robots' advanced independent thinking and self-learning capacity, research and development in the sector still faces many technical challenges, Vice President Li said at the opening ceremony. The nation will prioritize collaborative innovation to help further develop robot technology, he said.

Qu Daokui, president of domestic automation firm SIASUN Robot & Automation Co, noted during the conference that China's robotics industry is lagging behind in some areas.

"As a next step, we should focus more on perception intelligence technology," Qu noted.


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