September 5, 2017 12:30 pm JST

China emerging as a service robot powerhouse

Country's offerings dominate German expo; global market seen doubling to $20bn by 2022

JIRO YOSHINO, Nikkei staff writer

Qihan Technology's Sanbot Nano.

BERLIN -- Chinese manufacturers are fast establishing themselves in the up-and-coming service robot industry, known to be the domain of Japanese rivals.

At the IFA consumer electronics trade show currently underway here, about 90% of the companies featuring service robots hail from China. One of them is Shenzhen's Qihan Technology, which unveiled the Sanbot Nano domestic robot for the first time at the expo.

The roughly 70cm Sanbot Nano can understand voice commands and be directed to sing, order pizza or change the TV channel. The automaton also comes with an onboard camera allowing the owner to monitor the house remotely via smartphone. The product will hit stores in October and sell for $2,800.

Compatriot Hangzhou Amy Robotics revealed details of software that lets users of the Amy A1 robot program various customer service functions. The skill set includes guiding customers to rooms and taking orders at restaurants.

Amy Robotics says its robot can help control rising labor costs in China. The company is also ramping up business in Western nations and the Middle East.

Shanghai PartnerX Robotics is putting out miniature educational robots that kids can put together themselves. They come with a simple programming language for controlling movements.

Chinese companies are pouring resources into robotics as demand for labor-saving techniques climbs amid a graying population and rising wages. The government has also encouraged the growth of the robotics industry, making it a part of its Made in China 2025 initiative.

Many observers say that the quality of Chinese-made robots is still a work in progress. But the speed at which mainland companies are acquiring technological expertise is reportedly exceeding expectations. Chinese appliance giant Midea Group bought German industrial robot maker Kuka just last year.

For service robots, the global market is expected to double to $20 billion in 2022, according to Indian corporate intelligence firm Market Research Future. With the competitive landscape still coming together, no company can as yet claim a dominant market share.

Oddly enough, there were no Japanese service robots to be seen at IFA.

Asia300

Midea Group Co. Ltd.

China

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