Listen to this article
Beijing’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), which oversees the country’s industrial sector, published a guideline last week detailing goals for the country’s ambitions to develop humanoid robots. The MIIT said humanoids were likely to become another disruptive technology, similar to computers or smartphones, that could transform the way we produce goods and the way humans live.
According to the document, China aims to be ready to mass-produce humanoids by 2025. To do this, the country aims to establish a humanoid innovation system, make breakthroughs in several key technologies, and ensure the safe and effective supply of core components. The document says that by 2027, humanoids should be an important new engine of economic growth in China.
Leadership in China, along with the Chinese robotics industry, is closely following the development of humanoids in the rest of the world. The majority of companies that have publically announced a commercial humanoid to date are headquartered in North America. Oregon-based Agility Robotics recently announced its Digit humanoid is being tested by Amazon in an R&D warehouse near Seattle. Amazon is also an investor in Agility Robotics.
Agility also recently announced the opening of its new humanoid manufacturing facility in Oregon, capable of producing 10,000 units per year when it is completed in 2024.
RoboBusiness 2023, a leading event for commercial robotics developers produced by The Robot Report, featured a keynote panel discussing the state of humanoids. The panel consisted of executives with three of the most mature humanoids to date. The panel discussed how quickly humanoid robots are maturing and the business case for humanoid robots. The panel outlined the types of applications into which the robots are most likely to be deployed, including tasks moving material within warehouses and on the manufacturing floor.
The Chinese guidelines say industries like healthcare, home services, agriculture, and logistics will likely see a rise in the use of robots in the coming years. The country also wants to put effort into developing humanoids to work in harsh and dangerous conditions and within the manufacturing sector.
For those developing humanoids, the MIIT wants the industry to use recent breakthroughs in AI, like large language models, to focus on developing the brain, cerebellum, and limbs of humanoids.
China not only wants to increase the use of humanoids within the country, but also to become a world leader in humanoids. This means it wants to improve its industry standards and product testing capabilities and build laboratories, industry organizations, and open-source communities.
The country also has its eye on playing a bigger role in developing international rules and standard settings to contribute to the global humanoid robot industry.
China has been ramping up its robotics development across all kinds of robots in recent years. In August, Beijing announced a $1.4 billion robotics fund aimed at promoting robotics technology development in Beijing.
Earlier this year, China created a new action plan called the “Robot + Application Action Plan.” This plan lays out 10 industries — manufacturing, agriculture, architecture, logistics, energy, healthcare, education, elderly services, commercial community service and emergency and extreme environment applications — it wants to focus on automating.
The country aims to have around 500 robots per 10,000 workers by 2025. Data from the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) shows that China has been aggressively installing more robots in recent years. In 2021, the country’s industrial robotics market saw 243,300 installations, a 44% increase from the year before. Those installations are evident in China’s jump from being tied for the ninth most automated country worldwide in 2020 to being the fifth most automated country in 2021, surpassing Chinese Taipei, the United States, Hong Kong and Sweden in robot density.