China is the world’s largest market for industrial robots, overtaking Japan in 2013. According to China Robot Industry Alliance (CRIA) statistics, the volume of industrial robot sales in China was 36,350 units, or one fifth of the global total in 2013, and is expected to reach around 100,000 units in 2017.
The Chinese government has also announced a ten-year development plan for the robotics industry, as the country looks to upgrade its manufacturing capabilities (source in Chinese). Currently, Chinese robotics covers industrial and agricultural, commercial and even residential uses.
Some robots have already entered Chinese homes, including cleaning robots. But Chinese robots are going well beyond sweeping. Some models can simultaneously protect the home, amuse family members and educate children.
“Google has purchased eight [robotics] companies over the years. It’s very clear that the robot industry is going to take off throughout the coming years,” Rokid CEO Dan Wong told TechNode in an interview.
Rokid is an egg-shaped robot that can turn on lights, play songs, provide information about the weather, or remind you about an appointment. It can also call the police if it “sees” unfamiliar faces. Its name comes from ‘robot + kid’, meaning that Rokid can learn and become smarter as time goes by. The key technology behind Rokid is voice print and face recognition.
“A family A.I.(Artificial Intelligence) device for the home is an important domain and is tough to develop,” says Mr. Wong. “We first thought of developing a mobile robot. However, users may feel they already have too much technology around them in the house, and we thought, ‘will they consider buying another device that moves around your home?’ That’s why Rokid is not mobile and we provide functions mainly to make the family relax.”
Rokid was named a 2016 CES Innovation Awards Honoree in the Home Audio/Video Components and Accessories category. Based in San Francisco, Hangzhou and Beijing, Rokid was founded in July of 2014. Mr. Wong says the company has provided 100 test units to its first batch of beta users and that Rokid will be available to the public soon.
Another home robot is Pudding, which has similar functions as Rokid. For example, the robot has a home security function that can alert the user’s phone if there’s an intruder. The robot also has functions that are aimed at children, like telling users the zodiac fortune of the day and reciting Chinese proverbs. Users can choose from two kinds of A.I. characters, either “serious” or “funny.”
The robot’s crowdfunding campaign on JD.com completed its goal of 500,000 yuan, reaching 800,000 yuan ($122,000 USD) last October. The Pudding robot is currently available for 999 RMB ($153 USD) on JD.com.
Created by a Chinese team based in California, Alpha 2 is a humanoid robot with 20 joints that can replicate human motion. The robot can be connected to the user’s mobile phone to read and send texts and emails, and control WiFi office equipment such as printers and fax machines. It can also take photos and videos, and control lights and locks. Alpha 2’s crowdfunding campaign closed at $1.2 million USD on December 31st, surpassing its Indiegogo goal by 13 times.
UBTECH, the makers of Alpha 2, operates its own open system called Alpha Store where users can download new apps to keep the robot learning.
Jett is a companion robot for preschoolers based on the character from the popular animated series, Super Wings‘. Through the cloud of big data, the robot can constantly update its knowledge and skills, and can teach children language and science.
Equipped with the Turing OS operating system, the robot boasts voice recognition, semantic analysis, emotion recognition, visual identification, and self-learning capabilities. Its built-in camera analyzes children’s emotions, and the robot will tell jokes and sing when it finds the child unhappy. Finally, the robot will give “Daily Growth Report” to the child’s parents, to list what courses, songs, and stories the child had gone through with the robot.
The robot was introduced to public last June by Alpha Smart Technologies at a technology conference held in Beijing. The company also announced its strategic partnership with Blue Frog Robotics and Turing Robot, to build China’s ‘Smart Home Ecosystem.’
Image Credit: Rokid, Hksilicon, Pudding, Alpha2