China Wants To Mass Produce Human-like Robots

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China is setting out to mass produce human-like robots in two years, an ambitious plan that it hopes to put Beijing as the leader of the field.

In a blueprint issued to local authorities across China, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology announced the goal to establish an innovation framework for humanoid robots and ensure that the country can make core parts of the robots on its own.

The products, under the plan, will reach advanced international standards in quality. They will see applications in harsh environments, manufacturing, as well as service sectors, according to the directive. Like smartphones, computers, and new energy vehicles, humanoid robots have the “disruptive” potential to “revolutionize” people’s lives, the document said.

The ministry told officials to take advantage of China’s market size and its “whole-of-nation system” to accelerate humanoid robot development as a pillar industry to advance China’s manufacturing and digital dominance.

By 2025, Beijing hopes to have two to three companies with global influence and nurture more smaller businesses dedicated to the field. In another two years, the aim is to create a “safe and reliable supply chain” for the technology and make the country competitive globally. At that point, it said, such products will be deeply integrated into the economy and become a “new engine” for economic growth.

“Brain,” “cerebellum,” and “limbs” of the robots should be the focus, and the industry should aim at creating “highly reliable” robots for harsh or dangerous conditions, the guideline said. When monitoring and safeguarding “strategic locations,” robots need to be able to move in “highly complicated terrains,” size up the situation, and make intelligent decisions, it said, adding that robots will need greater ability to protect themselves and work with higher precision in scenarios such as rescue work or when explosives are involved.

Relevant authorities need to deepen international cooperation, encourage foreign companies to create research centers in China and bring Chinese products to the international market, according to the document.

Eager to partake in setting the global standard for emerging technology, Beijing said it’d like to get “deeply involved in the international rules and standard setting” and “contribute Chinese wisdom” to the industry’s development, the document said.

The directive marks China’s latest attempt to boost technological self-reliance as the United States tightens its ban on China’s access to advanced U.S. chips. Expanding on chip controls on China from October last year, the Bureau of Industry and Security of the Commerce Department in mid-October required more U.S. firms to obtain a license before they could export advanced semiconductor chips to China, a step they said is necessary to prevent Beijing from using these chips for their military ends. On Oct. 23, the U.S. government told Nvidia to stop shipping most of its key artificial intelligence chips to China.

Without citing the U.S. curbs, the document asked the industry to design AI chips for humanoid robots that would allow for self-learning and other capabilities.

Half a dozen Chinese intelligence firms saw their shares jump by as much as 10 to 20 percent the day following the announcement, while stock value for other robotic electronics also surged.

Beijing’s roadmap means it will be competing with international firms such as Samsung, Microsoft, and Tesla that are investing in the field.

Tesla’s Elon Musk has been trying to build a humanoid robot called Optimus or Tesla Bot. After a lot of hype last year, though, the display of the robot walking slowly on the stage and waving to the crowd fell flat of expectations.

In the Chinese media, there seems to be a sense of optimism over the prospect of the technology.

Lu Hanchen, director of the Gaogong Industry Research Institute, told the state-owned Securities Times that while China is some distance away from producing humanoid robots at scale, that goal is not that far off either.

Over 10 Chinese companies this year have revealed innovations related to humanoid robots, he noted, adding that China already has some supporting facilities from developing industrial robots.

Beijing has set aside about 10 billion yuan to fund the robotic development. On Nov. 6, China opened the first provincial-level innovation center on humanoid robots in the country’s capital to work on solving pressing “key common problems,” including operation control system, open source software, and robot prototypes.

At least one Chinese company, Jiangsu Miracle Logistics System Engineering Co., has promised to launch its first humanoid robot by the end of the year. Chinese securities brokerage firm Zheshang Securities estimates that the humanoid robot market will have a demand for 1.77 million machines by 2030.

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