Bipedal humanoid robot from electronics firm steals thunder at Shanghai motor fair

Currently, domestic companies that have introduced humanoid robots are more or less on the same footing technologically, with mass adoption a long way off, the veteran engineer claimed.

CETC Robotics (中电科机器人), a research subsidiary of China Electronics Technology Group Corporation, has debuted a humanoid robot that can walk upright and bipedally at a recent industrial conference.

The robot, standing 1.62m tall and weighing 60kg, has 39 degrees of freedom across its form. With a maximum single-arm payload of 5kg, it carries load of up to 10kg and walks at a top speed of 5 kph.

Displayed for the first time at the 27th China Motor Exhibition held in Shanghai between November 22 and 24, the black-and-white droid was put to a series of tests, such as walking and turning, to show its agility to visitors.

According to Dr. Jiang Zhiyong, director of the research team behind the contraption, the humanoid biped can walk stably on a slope, gravel and grass without slipping.

Besides, it is designed to perform tasks that require nimbleness, such as fetching a glass of water and carrying a box from one place to another.

To give the robot the ability to sense the environment and figure out its trail of movement, the team led by Jiang equipped it with visual recognition and perception modules as well as motion control algorithms.

These designs allow the contraption to walk, identify objects and avoid obstacles on its own. The functions prove essential to possible future use cases in smart logistics, manufacturing, safety patrol and emergency rescue.

Jiang told reporters that the team had finished its work on the voice interface module, enabling the robot to follow voice commands issued by humans to complete a series of tasks.

For instance, users can send the robot to fetch a glass of watch for them upon giving the oral instruction, Jiang was quoted as saying.

He, however, admitted that China lags behind industry leaders like Boston Dynamics, which has over 40 years of research experience in the field of humanoid robotics.

Fast improvement is needed in the motion control and self-balancing capabilities of homegrown humanoid variants, he noted.

Self-balancing proves to be the toughest test for domestic researchers. Jiang believes that this is because electricity-driven robots, when burdened with load or walking on rugged terrain for an extended period of time, face the issue of heating in their joints at best and tear and wear at worst.

“This is a thorny technical issue that needs to be tackled,” he said.

Currently, domestic companies that have introduced humanoid robots are more or less on the same footing technologically, with mass adoption a long way off, the veteran engineer claimed.

In addition to the heating joint issue, another barrier is the relatively short battery life of indigenous humanoid models, which mostly last no more than two hours, Jiang said.

As he sees it, prolonged endurance and heating-tolerant joints will be a key indicator of their suitability for commercial application.

“The precondition for developing a general-purpose AI-driven robot is to build a mature humanoid robot platform,” said Jiang. “Otherwise, the robot cannot perform any given task even though it has an advanced AI ‘brain’.”

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Ni Tao

Ni Tao is the founder and editor-in-chief of cnrobopedia. Prior to cnrobopedia, he had a full decade of experience with a major state-run English-language newspaper as a tech reporter and opinion writer. He is also a communications specialist, having provided consultancy services to established firms like Siemens, Philips, ABinBev, Diageo, Trip.com Group (Nasdaq: TCOM, HK: 9961), Jianpu Technology (NYSE: JT) and a handful of domestic startups. A graduate of Fudan University, he writes widely about China's business and tech scenes and other topics for global publications including South China Morning Post, SupChina, The Diplomat, CGTN, Banking Technology, among others, and tries to impart his experience to students at Fudan University Journalism School, where he is a part-time lecturer. When he's not writing about robotics, you can expect him to be on his beloved Yanagisawa saxophones, trying to play some jazz riffs, often in vain and occasionally against the protests of an angry neighbor. Get in touch with him by dropping a line at nitao0927@gmail.com.

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