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.
William Ide
— 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

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid