News / Asia

Robots Become China's Growing Labor Force

Robots Become China's Growing Labor Forcei
X
October 10, 2013 4:56 PM
While China may be known as the world's factory, rising labor costs have led to booming growth in automation for manufacturing, and that is turning the country into the world's biggest purchaser of robots. Leading robotics manufacturers have come to Shanghai to take advantage of this rapidly expanding business opportunity. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Shanghai.
While China may be known as the world's factory, rising labor costs have led to booming growth in automation for manufacturing and that is turning the country into the world's biggest purchaser of robots. Leading robotics manufacturers have come to Shanghai to cash in on this rapidly expanding business opportunity.

Robots have traditionally been used in heavy manufacturing, such as automobiles, but now their uses are widening as their capabilities expand.

Shunrin Mizutani, the CEO of Japanese robotics company Yaskawa in Shanghai, said that in addition to being used in the airline industry, some are used to make iPhones and other smart phones.

"Assembly that used to be done by hundreds of thousands of people is now done by robots,"  he said.

Rapid expansion of robotics

Yaskawa is one of several leading robotics manufacturers based in business-friendly Shanghai. Mizutani says that when his company started in China in 1996, they were only selling dozens of robots a year. Now that number is in the thousands.

According to the International Federation of Robotics, last year 23,000 units were sold in China, which it says is the most rapidly growing market in the world.

"In 2013, there was a rapid expansion in China's industrial robots market," said Wang Zhiliang, director of the Department of Internet Things at the University of Science and Technology in Beijing.

Wang said that while it has taken time for industries in China to warm up to automation, more and more industries are finding that robots not only boost quality, but can boost profits as well.

He noted that Shenyang Automation Institute, which focuses solely on robotics in China, already has orders for robots until 2015.  He adds the key reason for that is the dramatic increase of labor costs in China in recent years.

Foxconn, one of China's largest private employers, has set a goal of adding one million robots by next year. And the trend is expanding even outside factory walls, Mizutani said.

"Right now we have some robots that are used in hospitals that can help with joint recovery or perform small procedures. These are not factory robots, they are called service robots," he said.

The development of service robots is a key focus of Wang’s work at the University of Science and Technology in Beijing.

There, along with a fleet of students, Wang is developing robots to help address one of China’s big social challenges, the rising numbers of elderly. He said what while robots can alert the elderly to take medications, not walk too far or remind them to go to sleep, there are still significant challenges.

"For example, the elderly need to have water poured in a glass for them, so the challenge is pretty big still for a robot to go from one place to the other and pick up the glass," he said. "Artificial intelligence technology is still the most difficult part."

Yaskawa’s Mizutani said his company is working on a concept robot that could help the elderly buy goods online, keep them company by conversing with them and even cook for them.

Even so, while robots can assemble iPhones and weld car frames, some simple tasks like fetching water are still an unconquered frontier for China’s robot workers.

You May Like

Cambodia Seeks Official UN Maps for Vietnam Border

Notice of request comes as 2 countries open border talks Tuesday after a clash last month More

From South Africa to Vietnam, Cyclists Deliver Message Against Rhino Horns

Appalled by poaching they saw firsthand, sisters embark on tour to raise awareness in countries where rhino horn products are in demand More

Uber Wants Johannesburg Police Protection

Request follows recent protests outside ride-hailing service's Johannesburg office More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Implant Could Help Restore Movement to Paralyzed Limbsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
Maia Pujara
July 07, 2015 10:01 PM
A half-million people suffer spinal cord injuries each year because of car accidents, serious falls and diseases, according to the World Health Organization. Researchers are now working on a soft but strong spinal cord implant that could one day restore movement in paralyzed individuals. VOA’s Maia Pujara reports.
Video

Video New Implant Could Help Restore Movement to Paralyzed Limbs

A half-million people suffer spinal cord injuries each year because of car accidents, serious falls and diseases, according to the World Health Organization. Researchers are now working on a soft but strong spinal cord implant that could one day restore movement in paralyzed individuals. VOA’s Maia Pujara reports.
Video

Video Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deal

If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.

VOA Blogs