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

Analyst: Joint-Arab Military Force Poses Perilous Challenge

Although international forces are desperately needed to counter the threat of the Islamic State group, analysts say conflicting alliances could escalate fighting More

Asia’s Middle Class Changes Demand for Wheat Grain Exporters

Changes in tastes and diets are boon for wheat exporters such as Australia and the United States More

S. African Comedian Taking Over Popular TV Show

Mixed-race comedian Trevor Noah, who is loved for his edgy jibes about race and language, is taking the helm from Jon Stewart at The Daily Show in US More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More