Tai Chi practitioner doing Tai Chi with a robot at the World Forum On Robots, in Beijing, on Nov 24. (Photo/Xinhua)
As China embraces automation, the wide technology gap between local and foreign robot makers is narrowing slowly but surely
In a glitzy exhibition hall in Beijing, an extraordinary Tai chi show is on. The performers are a martial arts master in spotless white robes and－wait for it－an industrial robot.
It's the kind of robot you would often see hiding behind safety barriers at factories.
No sooner had the master pushed his right hand against the robot than the latter sprung into action, circled around and smoothly pushed him back in one fluid motion.
The 90-second demo is more ballet than combat as the man and the machine engage in almost intimate motions. Every time the master comes into contact, the sensor-rich machine, well, senses the touch instantly, determines the amount of pressure in it and 'instinctively' moves in the intended direction.
"This is China's first homegrown seven-axis collaborative robot," said Qu Daokui, president of Siasun Robot & Automation Co, the manufacturer of the motorized arm.
It can be trained by hands to perform a string of industrial tasks like grinding, packaging and feeding parts.
"It is ready to work side by side with humans on assembly lines, performing a string of industrial tasks like grinding, packaging, assembling and feeding parts," he said.
The collaborative robot, which was unveiled in November, is part of a broad effort by Siasun, as well as its domestic peers, to cash in on the country's growing appetite for industrial robots as enterprises are cranking up automation of car and electronics factories.
The world's second-largest economy is already the leading market for industrial robots, accounting for a quarter of global sales, according to the International Federation of Robotics.
Between 2010 and 2014, total supply of industrial robots in China increased by about 40 percent per year on average.
"This (China's) rapid development is unique in the history of robotics. There has never been such dynamic rise in such a short period of time in any other market," IFR said in a report.