China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) released guidelines for the development of an industry ecosystem to mass-produce humanoid robots.
The document says that AI and advances in manufacturing and lightweight materials will see humanoid robots being as disruptive as computers, smartphones, and electric vehicles in the near future.
How long will you have to wait for yours? The MIIT announcement says China anticipates mass-producing humanoid robots by 2025. It further notes that by preparing support services now, it will be able to mass produce far more advanced humanoid robots by 2027.
The key task it outlines for the industry is to pursue the development of the “brain”, “cerebellum”, and “limbs” components of robots. These refer to the AI thought processes, environmental interaction control, and physical interaction and navigation functions of robots respectively.
The MIIT statement also said that by 2025 China aims to have 2 or 3 robotics “ecosystem-type enterprises with global influence,” supported by industrial development clusters.
China anticipates humanoid robots to be used in a wide variety of applications including manufacturing and “healthcare, education, and service, where they can provide new and innovative ways to interact with humans.”
The document doesn’t mention defense as one of the use cases for the robots but does mention using them in “harsh environments, such as security and rescue, where they can perform tasks that are dangerous or difficult for humans.”
Interestingly the statement describes the rapidly evolving robotics field as a new ‘battlefield for technological competition.” With mass production kicking off in 2025, how long will it be before we see an army of humanoid robots on the actual battlefield?
In 2021 China surpassed the US as it became the world’s fifth most automated country. With a declining birth rate, the country will need its army of robots to take on more jobs as it runs out of people.
To call China’s plan to become a world leader in mass-producing humanoid robots in 2 years ambitious is an understatement.
For the country to achieve its goals it will have to overcome several challenges. Its AI development continues at pace but is being hamstrung by the US restrictions on the supply of high-tech AI chips to China.
We have seen big advancements in robotics but the motor skills of current humanoid robots are still a little clunky. They’re not quite ready to walk around your house picking up after you without falling over.
The other challenge noted by the MIIT is convincing people to trust humanoid robots. The “Will it malfunction and kill me one day?” question is a valid one. The more realistic threat is that China could integrate these robots into its already extensive surveillance infrastructure.
Having a robot clean your house sounds great, but how would you feel about it watching you sleep or eavesdropping on your conversations?