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January 1, China’s Star Robots – Future Labor and War Heroes?



The future of robotics is fast approaching, with the promise of humanoid robots becoming a common household feature. This is according to a recent announcement from a robotics centre in Beijing. These robots, which utilize artificial intelligence and mimic the human form, are predicted to thrust China into the forefront of the ongoing technological race with the United States.

The Beijing Humanoid Robot Innovation Centre, a relatively new establishment, has been somewhat reticent about its latest endeavor to develop a general-purpose humanoid robot prototype. However, they have confidently stated that this robot will be realized “soon,” as reported by the South China Morning Post.

These machines are anticipated to supplement China’s dwindling labor force, as the country’s vast economy seeks to revitalize its growth engines with innovative, tech-led “productive forces”. An anonymous source from the Beijing Humanoid Robot Innovation Centre told the Beijing Youth Daily: “It is the dream of every humanoid robot company to bring humanoid robots into thousands of households.”

This development comes amidst China’s intense technological competition with the United States, and as China grapples with significant demographic challenges, including a rapidly ageing population and a property market crisis. The centre, which was reportedly established late last year, collaborates with both private and state-owned robot manufacturers.

A source, referred to as a “person in charge”, revealed that leading experts and researchers from the robotics industry at the centre are striving to create “a common technological platform, a public service platform and regulatory standards for the humanoid robot industry”. They further stated, “In the future, humanoid robots may enter automobile manufacturing, 3C (computer, communication, and consumer electronics) manufacturing and other fields, thereby further improving the industrial manufacturing level.”

There are concerns that humanoid robots could become another form of “disruptive innovation”, akin to computers, smartphones, and new-energy vehicles. However, China is aiming to transform the humanoid robot sector into “an important new engine of economic growth” by 2027, as stated by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).

The centre’s humanoid robots represent a technological fusion of artificial intelligence and new materials. China hopes that these robots will bolster the country’s self-reliance and competitiveness against the United States. Companies from around the globe are already making strides in the field of humanoid robots.

One such robot, the prototype of which was unveiled in September 2022, is projected to be mass-produced within three to five years. As of a November report by the Research Institute of People’s Daily Online, China is currently the second-largest holder of humanoid robot patents with 1,699, trailing behind Japan.

Last year, the MIIT announced its plans to mass-produce humanoid robots, aiming to produce approximately 500 robots per 10,000 workers by 2025. The ministry believes these robots will be beneficial in industries such as healthcare, home services, agriculture, and logistics.

New plans indicate that China may soon substitute human soldiers with robots in future war scenarios. Advanced robot soldiers and high-tech drones are expected to be deployed to complex overseas missions within the next decade.

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