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“It started with industrial applications
in China, but with the digitization of the
world, there are new robots out there that
are a little more scary, but more interesting
in what they can do tomorrow to disrupt
businesses,” he explains.
“I wrote AI code around 20 years ago,
and it only started to scare me this year
because it’s got infinite access to data, it can
remember things forever, and with infinite
access to processing it can get close to
human thinking. The real use case is around
how AI in robots is being used to digitize
At your service
Experts believe that the service robot
industry is on the cusp of growth,
particularly in China. “The development
level of service robots is expected to
surpass that of industrial robots,” says
William Chou, National Technology,
Media and Telecommunications Industry
Managing Partner at Deloitte China.
“In emerging markets such as China,
the technology gap between foreign and
domestic is decreasing, and domestic
companies will have the natural advantage
of understanding the local culture,” he
adds, citing “empty nesters” – parents in
China left behind by children working in
big cities – who want a companion, even if
he or she is a robot.
Three areas will see significant future
developments, according to Chou: medi-
cal robots (surgical and rehabilitation),
logistics robots, and financial robots. While
many medical robot companies are still at
the research and development stage, Siao
Tin Soh, an analyst at GCiS China Strategic
Research, agrees that they are set to trans-
form parts of China’s healthcare industry.
“It will mean less invasive surgeries,
and operations being performed with
greater precision; it will mitigate healthcare
professional shor tage with robots taking
over some of the repetitive and admin
tasks, allowing the doctor or nurse to focus
more on patient care; and it will enable the
provision of homecare, alleviating pressure
on the public heathcare system,” says Soh.
She expects to see more surgical robots in
China’s hospitals in the near future.
Logistics robots will also have a promis-
ing future. “Currently, online shopping
transactions account for 20 percent of
China’s total retail transactions, and the
percentage is expected to increase, which
makes automation equipment and intelli-
gent logistics equipment a must to speed up
the warehouse processing and delivering,”
says Chou. Alibaba, he adds, has already
started testing its autonomous drones in
the company park, while JD.com’s delivery
drones are expected to launch this year.
Lastly, financial robots can provide cus-
tomer services such as business consulting,
security, for example early-warning detec-
tion, and data analysis through so-called
robo-advisers. “Using voice recognition,
autonomous mobility and other intelligence
technology, financial robots can analyse
customers’ preferences during conversa-
tions to recommend financial products or
credit cards and obtain clients for banks.
Meanwhile, robo-advisers can provide asset
management strategies to clients with the
support of big data and AI,” says Chou.
Hong Kong’s ser vices industries are
prime for such robots, notes Likens at PwC.
“Finance, banking and insurance, these
industries that have tremendous amounts
of data that humans look at today are ripe
for this transition into making work more
efficient through robotic automation,” he
says. “We see our clients very interested in
it, but it’s still early days. They’re trying to
figure out if it’s much more efficient at an
industrial scale. Robotics automate tasks
so humans can focus on more innovative
and creative thinking. But the reality is,
robotics offer exponential cost savings
China’s burgeoning industrial robot sector
is still a key focus for industry watchers.
The International Federation of Robotics
estimates that the country will account for
40 percent of the global industrial robot
market by 2019.
The Chinese government has been
pushing for more robots, promoting the
wider use of industrial robots in industries
such as car manufacturing, electronics,
home appliances, aviation, textiles,
chemicals, logistics and food production.
It issued the Robot Industry Development
Plan (2016-2020) in April last year, vowing
to produce 100,000 robots annually by
2020, with sales reaching 30 billion yuan.
The country’s ageing population, and ever
increasing labour costs, are also driving
China to heavily invest in robots.
It is well known that automotive
manufacturers have been using robots
to automate assembly for years, while,
according to Roger Chung, Research Senior
Manager at Deloitte China, other industries
such as electronic manufacturing, metal
manufacturing, chemical and food
processing are beginning to adopt robots.
Now, experts see a rising demand for
more intelligent manufacturing robots,
especially in computing, communications,
and consumer electronics industries where
robots need to manipulate tiny par ts with
greater precision. “Carrying loads, moving
things around – those are things robots
can provide asset
strategies to clients
with the support of
big data and AI. ”
April 2017 13
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