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Robotics to build on momentum from COVID-19

Ouyang Shijia
Updated: Sep 11,2021 09:00    China Daily

China's robotics industry is growing from strength and strength, with leading companies in the sector ramping up efforts to advance production in the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak, said business executives on the opening day of the four-day World Robot Conference 2021 in Beijing on Sept 10.

They also said the COVID-19 pandemic is causing companies and organizations to modify or improvise use of technologies like artificial intelligence and robotics, leading to rapid adoption of robots in fields like healthcare and smart logistics.

Michael Tam, chief brand officer of UBTech Robotics, a Shenzhen, Guangdong province-based company, said the novel coronavirus outbreak has led an increasing group of people to accept robots in various fields, making robotics one of the unlikely beneficiaries of the economic turbulence.

During the pandemic, UBTech's anti-epidemic robots and solutions have been used in 15 countries and regions, including China, the United States, Japan, the Netherlands and Rwanda, to help control the spread of COVID-19 and speed up the return to normal life.

For instance, UBTech robots can check the body temperature and remind people to wear masks properly, if they detect uncovered noses.

In fact, companies are looking to use such service-providing robots to help bridge the social gaps created by the COVID-19 epidemic, Tam said.

"Despite the COVID-19 impact, we expect the domestic robots market will see steady and healthy development this year. We'll see substantial growth in the next three to five years."

UBTech, he said, will mainly focus on fields like AI-powered education, elderly care and smart logistics. "We'll make a big push to reduce the cost of making robots, allowing more people to enjoy the convenience brought by the adoption of emerging technologies."

China has been the world's largest market for industrial robots for years. In 2018, industrial robots made in China accounted for 38 percent of the global production volume, data from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology showed.

According to the ministry, over 237,000 industrial robots were produced in China in 2020, up 19 percent year-on-year. The latest data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed over 205,000 industrial robots were produced during the first seven months of this year, up nearly 65 percent year-on-year.

Xu Guoqiang, sales director for the North China market at lightweight robot expert firm Rokae (Beijing) Technology Co Ltd, which is based in Beijing, said the rapid growth of China's industrial robots was mainly driven by the swift adoption of robots in companies in the wake of mounting uncertainties brought by the coronavirus outbreak. And China's steady industrial development and growth also prompted the increase in industrial robots, he said.

"We expect to see an explosive growth of industrial robots in China, especially in emerging fields like semiconductors and new energy. We'll also see rising new opportunities in service-providing robots, in terms of application in fields like New Retail, catering and healthcare."

Xu's views were echoed by Yang Shuai, executive president of Hunan Cothink Robotics Tech Co Ltd, which is based in Changsha, Hunan province. Yang said he expects to see substantial growth in service-providing robots in the future. "This trend will accelerate during the post-pandemic era."

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