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Pudu Robotics Showcased Its Advanced Robotics Solution at FSTEC US Exhibition

Pudu Robots Singled Out from Thousands of Products Featured at FSTEC 2021

Global technology company Pudu Robotics featured its global availability of high-performance robots with the latest delivery & reception service solution at FSTEC 2021 exhibition in Texas. The theme of FSTEC 2021 is to enable restaurants and tech connect, four of the most representative robots from Pudu Robotics were showcased from Sept. 12 to Sept. 14, including BellaBotKettyBotPuduBot and HolaBot. They are designed to efficiently improve food delivery services across various restaurants and commercial environments.

Pudu Robotics robots were on full display to navigate the exhibition venue and hit high attraction during FSTEC in recognition of its advanced technology and innovative solutions that help restaurants to achieve more with less, delivering a state-of-the-art experience for on-site food delivery. In the process of development, Pudu Robotics aims to use robots to improve the efficiency of human production and living to the future. The following products can represent the spirit of its growth.

BellaBot

  • Large capacity with 4-layer induction tray
  • Interact with the robot by touching
  • Replace battery anytime
  • Easy to navigate even without markers

KettyBot

  • A walking AD Display with18.5″ screen
  • Pass freely even with 55cm left
  • Easy to navigate even without markers
  • Work continuously for 8 hours

PuduBot

  • Large capacity with 7-layer adjustable tray
  • 6 different delivery modes for different purposes
  • Deliver safely with built-in 3D obstacle avoidance sensor
  • Deliver steady with auto-independent linkage suspension

HolaBot

  • Greatly improve plates collection efficiency
  • Large carrying capacity up to 60KG
  • Easily controlled by a smartwatch
  • Contactless and safe delivery

In the future, Pudu Robotics will continue to focus on advanced innovation in the robotics industry to fully explore with its partners to expand the global market in depth.

For more information, please visit the official social media below:
Facebook / YouTube / Linkedin / Instagram / Twitter

About Pudu Robotics

Founded in 2016 and headquartered in Shenzhen, Pudu Robotics is a high-tech enterprise dedicated to the design, R&D, production and sales of commercial service robots. The company has set up R&D centers in Shenzhen and Chengdu, and hundreds of after-sales service centers across the globe.

As a world-leading provider of commercial service robots, Pudu Robotics has sold tens of thousands of robots to more than 60 countries and regions, covering more than 600 cities around the world.

In May 2021, Pudu Robotics completed series C financing of $78 million, a joint investment by Tencent, Meituan and Sequoia Capital China.

Global Website: www.pudurobotics.com

Related Links :

http://www.pudurobotics.com

Source: https://www.asiaone.com/business/pudu-robotics-showcased-its-advanced-robotics-solution-fstec-us-exhibition

caterer

Caterer Awards 2021: Meet our sponsor Pudu Robotics

The company provides delivery and disinfection robots to the F&B industry and more

This year’s Caterer Middle East Awards takes place on September 14 at JW Marriott Marquis Dubai. Tickets are almost sold out for the event, which brings together the very best of the region’s F&B industry.

Each year we have incredible sponsors who help make the gala event a success, and here we shine a spotlight on Pudu Robotics.

Founded in 2016 with a headquarters in Shenzen, Pudu Robotics is an international high-tech enterprise dedicated to the design, R&D, production and sales of commercial service robots.

Powered by the core technologies of low-speed autonomous driving, robotics motor and motion control, Pudu Robotoics has developed delivery robots and disinfection robots that are widely used in restaurants, hospitals, schools, office buildings, government halls, subway stations, waiting room and more.

Pudu’s products are sold in more than 50 countries and 500 cities, making it a world-leading enterprise of commercial service robots.

Jessie Jia, UAE country manager, said: “At this year’s Caterer Awards, Pudu robotics will bring in their two service robots Kettybot and Bellabot onsite who will then help with the awarding and service onsite. We believe we will see a more innovative, creative, and unique event with these two members joining us.

“The Caterer Middle East awards is the very good opportunity for us to understand the UAE’s F&B industry further, to learn and understand what our customers really care about, and to to present the smart robot solution we have for customers here.

“Congratulations to all the shortlisted people and teams. You are the ones that lead the F&B industry and will keep leading the industry. Pudu would be hornoured to join hands with you to bring innovation, intelligence and more values to the industry.”

Source: https://www.caterermiddleeast.com/suppliers/caterer-awards-2021-meet-our-sponsor-pudu-robotics

china digest

China Digest: Tencent-backed Pudu, Neocrm raise new capital

Tencent-backed Chinese companies Pudu Technology and Neocrm have both garnered new financing to fund their next stage of development.

Tencent-backed Pudu raises Series C2 round

Pudu Technology, a Chinese developer of commercial service robots, has closed the second tranche of its Series C funding round at “hundreds of millions of yuan,” the startup announced on Tuesday.

The Series C2 round, which came four months after the completion of a Series C1 round, brought its total Series C fundraise to almost 1 billion yuan ($155.2 million). In May it had announced a Series C1 round, through which the startup raked in 500 million yuan ($77.6 million) from investors including Chinese food delivery giant Meituan and Sequoia Capital China.

Shenzhen-based Pudu focuses on the design, R&D, production, and sales of commercial service robots, such as interactive delivery and reception robots, that can be used in restaurants, hospitals, schools, office buildings, hotels, airports, and beyond. The startup has over 600 core patents, equipping its robots with technologies like low-speed autonomous driving, robotics motor and motion control, and intelligent interaction.

Founded in 2016, the startup delivers products to more than 60 countries and regions. Its major clients include China’s biggest hotpot chain Haidilao, Peking roast duck restaurant brand Quanjude, property developer Country Garden, Holiday Inn owner IHG, and Marriott International’s semi-luxury hotel chain Sheraton Hotels and Resorts.

Prior to the Series B round, Pudu raised over 100 million yuan ($15.5 million) in a Series B round from Meituan in July 2020. One month later, it closed another 100-million-yuan in a Series B+ round led by Sequoia Capital China.

CRM solutions provider Neocrm closes $70m

Neocrm, a Tencent-backed firm that provides customer relationship management (CRM) solutions, has closed $70 million in a new funding round.

The firm did not disclose the investors of the new round. The new investment followed the completion of its $120-million Series E round from Tencent in September 2019.

It had raised a 100-million-yuan Series D+ round in April 2018 and a 280-million-yuan ($43.5 million) Series D round in January 2017. Investors in the previous rounds include Sequoia Capital China, Matrix Partners China, and ZhenFund.

Neocrm, which also goes by its “Xiaoshouyi (Easy sales)” in Chinese, operates as a subsidiary of Beijing IngageApp Internet Technology providing enterprise-level CRM solutions to help clients automate their marketing, sales, and customer services.

Leveraging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), big data, and Internet of Things (IoT), the firm helps B2B clients build a full-cycle CRM system that connects external distributors, service providers, and end-users. Its solutions also help bridge B2C businesses with their customers to enable targeted marketing and customer acquisition. The firm also has multi-language and multi-currency capabilities to support enterprises in their global business expansion.

Its products are adopted by companies in areas like automobile, finance, and retail, serving clients including personal computer firm Lenovo, electric power firm Shanghai Electric, video surveillance manufacturer Hikvision, French electrical equipment group Schneider Electric, Beijing-based electric scooter maker Segway-Ninebot Group, and nuts and roasted foods business Chacha Food.

Source: https://www.dealstreetasia.com/stories/pudu-neocrm-raise-funds-260639/

dallas restaurant

Dallas Restaurant Hires Robots amid Worker Shortage — and Customers ‘Love Them,’ Owner Says

Taco Borga, owner of Latin American restaurant La Duni in Dallas, Texas, has brought on three new robots to help greet and serve guests — and doesn’t plan on stopping there


Taco Borga found a unique way to handle the server shortage at his Texas restaurant once the spot began welcoming back indoor diners in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The longtime restauranteur — who owns and operates La Duni, a Latin American restaurant and bakery in Uptown Dallas — brought on three new workers over the summer to supplement the demand of his booming business.

They’re efficient, reliable, and personable; able to work long hours without breaks, don’t drop orders, and need very little training.

They’re robots.

“I was nervous when I first heard about them,” Borga tells PEOPLE of the machines, which are sold by Plano-based company American Robotech and made by China-based Pudu Robotics. “We found out about them in June and I called the owner, Jackie Chen, and said, ‘I heard you have robots. I’d like to see them.’ What I didn’t know is he’d show up with them here. Within 45 minutes, he had the entire dining room scanned and the robots programmed. They were moving around the space, carrying plates, working. We were in awe.

“Everyone was in love with them.”

Borga, a 40-year industry vet, saw three of four of the five restaurants he owned shut down due to the pandemic.

La Duni, which Borga’s wife began as a bakery before it morphed into a popular and acclaimed full-service restaurant, was the only one that survived. It had just celebrated its 20th anniversary when the pandemic hit.

Like many restaurants, the business successfully transitioned into takeout and delivery. But when dining rooms started reopening after the record-breaking winter storm in February that paralyzed Dallas for a week, Borga suddenly had an influx of customers on his hands — and no one to serve them.

“People were tired of staying at home and they all came out in droves,” he recalls. “This was an overnight stampede of diners that we were not prepared to serve. We were 40% higher than our best year. We were doing double the business than we had the year before the pandemic. And we didn’t have the staff.”

“We were in a bind,” Borga says. “You either close sections of the restaurant and don’t serve everybody, or you overwhelm and overwork the staff you have and then they quit. Either way, it was a problem.”

Staffing, in fact, had been a struggle for Borga long before the pandemic.

“The last 5, 10 years, it was just getting worse and worse and worse,” he says. “Before the pandemic, we would get ten applications a month if we were lucky. The last year and a half, we got one.”

“You don’t realize if you’ve never done it before, but serving is a very taxing job,” he adds. “You are constantly moving around on your feet, taking orders, running food, carrying heavy trays, going back and forth to the kitchen — two, three, four, five tables at a time. That takes a toll on your body, Those activities are not simulating mentally and emotionally, but you have to do them. And you have to stay happy for the customers the whole time while you’re doing them. At the end of the day, it doesn’t motivate employees. They are extremely under-appreciated. We needed to come up with systems to help the staff who still want to work in hospitality and do a good job.”

The robots wound up being the perfect solution for Borga. Named Alexcita, Panchita and Coqueta, the three devices glide around the restaurant, carrying food and drinks to tables with ease.

One is even a host assistant, welcoming guests and taking them to the table so managers and assistant managers — who would typically do that role — can focus on their jobs.

They all have personality, too. “They interact with people, they react when you touch them, they tell jokes — it really humanizes them and breaks the perception people have coming in. Yes, they’re really just tablets on wheels that carry things back and forth. But these interactive features have allowed customers to completely embrace them.”

“We get the occasional person who might complain, but that’s 1 out of 1,000. Everyone else, they love them. When you see the face of a 9-month-old baby who can’t walk but they can press a button and see the robot light up? And they giggle and they smile and everyone at the table is filled with joy? Then you see this things has legs. Not just because they fulfill a basic service, but because they make the customers happy too.”

Most importantly, productivity is up, which is why the devices — which cost between $4,000 and $16,000, depending on their functionality — were well worth the investment in Borga’s eyes.

“The average server will spend 70% of their time bringing things to the table,” Borga says. “That person can do anywhere from 60-80 trips a shift to all the table. Multiple that by 2, 3 minutes for trips, that’s nearly 3 hours, just doing busy work. But a robot, it can carry up to 8 dishes to a table at once — and bring those same dishes to the dishwasher, which is another massive chore — in half the time.”

“This makes the whole process 100 times more efficient,” he continues. “One server can mange 20 tables instead of 3. The tips skyrocket, because they’re working more tables. It’s a win/win for both.

Servers are now free to do what they were hired to do, Borga says: actually provide customer service.

“Before what they were doing, that was not really customer service; that’s just things you have to do. It really defeats the purpose of what service is about,” he explains. “All these tasks that are repetitive and mindless should not be given to humans. If you talk to most servers, they’ll say they’re treated like robots anyway!”

“The server now is doing customer service activities,” Borga points out. “They have more time to talk, more time to interact. They don’t have to run to the next table. They don’t have to rush you. They are there to breathe, talk to you, know you, ask you how your kids are doing, thank you for coming — things you can’t take the luxury of doing when you’re in a high volume environment. It makes the more experience even more human.

“Time is the most valuable thing we have. If we cannot invest it in the true meaning of service, then we are the robots.”

Source: https://people.com/food/dallas-restaurant-hires-robots-amid-worker-shortage/

blog post 3

Pudu Technology raises over $15 million for ‘contact-free’ autonomous delivery robots

Shenzhen-based robotics R&D startup Pudu Technology today announced an over $15 million round. The company claims over 2,000 hotel, restaurant, and hospital customers — including Sheraton and JD.com — across 20 countries. It will use the funds to develop new products, expand sales, and explore markets overseas.

The pandemic has accelerated the demand for robotic solutions, as they’re inherently contactless. Because customers and delivery workers are exposed to disinfected robots rather than each other, robots promise to limit the spread of infection while addressing gaps in on-demand delivery capacity.

Pudu sells a number of low-speed, autonomous, self-charging robots designed to ferry goods and interact with customers in hospitality and service settings. BellaBot, which the company describes as a “full-dimensional sensory” delivery robot, features a linkage suspension system for added stability and a modular chassis with built-in obstacle avoidance sensors. Holabot is designed to collect plates, with a high carrying capacity (120 liters), water-resistant design, and gesture recognition.

During the health crises, Pudu says its robots have provided contact-free delivery services in hundreds of hospitals worldwide, chiefly in Seoul, Beijing, and Wuhan. The company claims a single one of its robots can deliver up to 300 trays of meals a day, exceeding 400 at peak volume.

All of Pudu’s robots sport Pudu X EAI, a custom-designed lidar sensor that samples light at 18,000 times per second. It’s part of the company’s proprietary simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) algorithm that draws on a range of sensors — including cameras, lidars, inertial measurement units, depth sensors, and radar — to deliver “centimeter-level” real-time positioning and map construction.

On the software side, Pudu offers Pudu Cloud, which handles things like business, operations, and maintenance management and scenario data collection. For instance, Pudu Scheduler allows customers to let the robots directly communicate with other robots on the same network, eliminating the need for a server. An AI voice module supports hundreds of dialog contexts. And cross-platform apps enable monitoring from smartwatches, tablets, pagers, and smartphones.

Beijing-based ecommerce company Meituan-Dianping exclusively led this latest investment in Pudu. The series B follows the completion of a 50 million yuan (~$7 million) round in June 2018, bringing Pudu’s total raised to over $20 million.

Pudu’s other notable customers include Sichuan-based hot pot restaurant chain Haidilao and food delivery app operator Wowa Brothers, to which the company sold over 5,000 robots last year. Pudu says it currently employs more than 100 people across its Shenzhen headquarters, its branch in Chengdu, and its service centers in over 60 cities in China.

Source: https://venturebeat.com/2020/07/01/pudu-technology-raises-15-million-for-contact-free-autonomous-delivery-robots/

blog post

Can catering robots plug labour shortfall in China with ability to juggle hundreds of orders and not complain?

Two years ago, Bao Xiangyi quit school and worked as a waiter in a restaurant for half a year to support himself, and the 19 year-old remembers the time vividly.

“It was crazy working in some Chinese restaurants. My WeChat steps number sometimes hit 20,000 in a day [just by delivering meals in the restaurant],” said Bao.

The WeChat steps fitness tracking function gauges how many steps you literally take and 20,000 steps per day can be compared with a whole day of outdoor activity, ranking you very high in a typical friends circle.

Bao, now a university student in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, quit the waiter job and went back to school.

“I couldn’t accept that for 365 days a year every day would be the same,” said Bao. “Those days were filled with complete darkness and I felt like my whole life would be spent as an inferior and insignificant waiter.”

Olivia Niu, a 23-year-old Hong Kong resident, quit her waiter job on the first day. “It was too busy during peak meal times. I was so hungry myself but I needed to pack meals for customers,” said Niu.

Being a waiter has never been a top career choice but it remains a big source of employment in China. Yang Chunyan, a waitress at the Lanlifang Hotel in Wenzhou in southeastern China, has two children and says she chose the job because she needs to make a living.

Today’s young generation have their sights on other areas though. Of those born after 2000, 24.5 per cent want careers related to literature and art. This is followed by education and the IT industry in second and third place, according to a recent report by Tencent QQ and China Youth Daily.

Help may now be at hand though for restaurants struggling to find qualified table staff who are able to withstand the daily stress of juggling hundreds of orders of food. The answer comes in the form of robots.

Shenzhen Pudu Technology, a three-year-old Shenzhen start-up, is among the tech companies offering catering robots to thousands of restaurant owners who are scrambling to try to plug a labour shortfall with new tech such as machines, artificial intelligence and online ordering systems. It has deployed robots in China, Singapore, Korea and Germany.

With Pudu’s robot, kitchen staff can put meals on the robot, enter the table number, and the robot will deliver it to the consumer. While an average human waiter can deliver 200 meals per day – the robots can manage 300 to 400 orders.

“Nearly every restaurant owner [in China] says it’s hard to recruit people to [work as a waiter],” Zhang Tao, the founder and CEO of Pudu tech said in an interview this week. “China’s food market is huge and delivering meals is a process with high demand and frequency.”

Pudu’s robots can be used for ten years and cost between 40,000 yuan (US$5,650) and 50,000 yuan. That’s less than the average yearly salary of restaurant and hotel workers in China’s southern Guangdong province, which is roughly 60,000 yuan, according to a report co-authored by the South China Market of Human Resources and other organisations.

As such, it is no surprise that more restaurants want to use catering robots.According to research firm Verified Market Research, the global robotics services market was valued at US$11.62 billion in 2018 and is projected to reach US$35.67 billion by 2026. Haidilao, China’s top hotpot restaurant, has not only adopted service robots but also introduced a smart restaurant with a mechanised kitchen in Beijing last year. And in China’s tech hub of Shenzhen, it is hard to pay without an app as most of the restaurants have deployed an online order service.

China’s labour force advantage has also shrank in recent years. The working-age population, people between 16 and 59 years’ old, has reduced by 40 million since 2012 to 897 million, accounting for 64 per cent of China’s roughly 1.4 billion people in 2018, according to the national bureau of statistics.

By comparison, those of working age accounted for 69 per cent of the total population in 2012.

Other Chinese robotic companies are also entering the market. SIASUN Robot & Automation Co, a hi-tech listed enterprise belonging to the Chinese Academy of Sciences, introduced their catering robots to China’s restaurants in 2017. Delivery robots developed by Shanghai-based Keenon Robotics Co., founded in 2010, are serving people in China and overseas markets such as the US, Italy and Spain.

Pudu projects it will turn a profit this year and it is in talks with venture capital firms to raise a new round of funding, which will be announced as early as October, according to Zhang. Last year it raised 50 million yuan in a round led by Shenzhen-based QC capital.

To be sure, the service industry is still the biggest employer in China, with 359 million workers and accounting for 46.3 per cent of a working population of 776 million people in 2018, according to the national bureau of statistics.

And new technology sometimes offers up new problems – in this case, service with a smile.

“When we go out for dinner, what we want is service. It is not as simple as just delivering meals,” said Wong Kam-Fai, a professor in engineering at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and a national expert appointed by the Chinese Association for Artificial Intelligence. “If they [robot makers] can add an emotional side in future, it might work better.”

Technology companies also face some practical issues like unusual restaurant layouts.

“Having a [catering robot] traffic jam on the way to the kitchen is normal. Some passageways are very narrow with many zigzags,” Zhang said. “But this can be improved in future with more standardised layouts.”

Multi-floor restaurants can also be a problem.

Dai Qi, a sales manager at the Lanlifang Hotel, said it is impossible for her restaurant to adopt the robot. “Our kitchen is on the third floor, and we have boxes on the second, third, and fourth floor. So the robots can’t work [to deliver meals to downstairs/upstairs],” Dai said.

But Bao says he has no plans to return to being a waiter, so the robots may have the edge.

“Why are human beings doing something robots can do? Let’s do something they [robots] can’t,” Bao said.

View source version on
South China Morning Post: https://www.scmp.com/tech/start-ups/article/3027128/can-catering-robots-plug-labour-shortfall-china-ability-juggle

欢乐送两台

In COVID-19, Pudu Robotics Provides Non-contact Delivery Service in Hundreds of Hospitals Worldwide – (Yahoo)

During COVID-19, hundreds of Pudu Robotics’ robot Pudubot is offering delivery service in hospitals worldwide. This non-contact delivery service by Pudubot helps avoid the spread of virus.

This press release features multimedia. View the full release here: https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20200605005095/en/

After the outbreak of COVID-19, the pandemic with the characteristic of human-to-human transmission, a large number of hospitals and restaurants are seeking help from Pudu Robotics out of an urgent need for non-contact delivery.

Pudu Robotics responded positively by devoting robots to several hospitals in Seoul, South Korea, Beijing, China, Wuhan, China and so on. Because Pudu Robotics’ robots are fully automatic, they can achieve the delivery process all by themselves, which reduces contact between people and effectively prevents the spread of the virus.

Pudubot is equipped with multi-sensor and positioning and navigation technology. With large-capacity tray, Pudubot can deliver lots of medicines, meals, and other supplies to patients in the hospital to reduce the burden on medical staff.

In fact, this robot also delivers food in the restaurant before COVID-19.

At present, more than 2,000 international companies, such as Wowa Brothers, the largest food delivery app operator in Korea; Sheraton, a leader of high-star chain hotel; Haidilao, the Chinese hot pot giant; JD.com, the Chinese e-commerce giant have adopted this robot in non-contact delivery services.

Pudu Robotics CEO Zhang Tao said: “non-human physical contact means safety, and automation means saving human efforts. In the event of human life, these two advantages will be magnified. Many technology companies have played an important role in intelligent disinfection, unmanned delivery and intelligent diagnosis during COVID-19, which made an irreversible influence to the public health system.”

Established in 2016, Pudu Robotics Co. Ltd. is a National High-tech Enterprise that is devoted to R&D, design, manufacture and sales of delivery robots, with headquarter in Shenzhen, the city globally famous for innovative hardware, and R&D center in Beijing and Chengdu along with branches and service center in over 60 cities in China.

Pudu’s main products are delivery robots which are widely used in restaurant, hotel, office building, hospital and Karaoke. Our products are sold in over 200 cities in more than 20 countries. In 2019 alone we have sold over 5000 sets of robots. In 2019, the company has sold over 5000 robots, ranking the top in this industry.

View source version on businesswire.com: https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20200605005095/en/

blog post 2

The rush to deploy robots in China amid the coronavirus outbreak – (CNBC)

Marvin Sepe, senior vice president of Irvine, California-based CTC Global, has been scrambling to get his company’s Chinese factory operating again after losing one month of production due to the coronavirus outbreak.

To reopen the company’s plant in the eastern Chinese city of Huaian, he must submit documents to the Chinese government for his 62 employees in China, listing their health status, recent travels, dates, quarantine and isolation periods. All but two workers have cleared the government-mandated health check. He also must make sure that the hi-tech plant, which makes conductor wires for the electric power grid, is disinfected.

When work restarts on the planned date of March 2, employee temperatures will be monitored twice a day and workers outfitted with masks and gloves. Production will be ramped up slowly as employees return to work, and output is carefully monitored. All staff have been paid their full salary during the production shutdown, which overlapped with the two-week long Chinese New Year holiday starting Jan. 25.

CTC Global’s plant in China is more than 400 miles away from Wuhan, the center of the outbreak, but it’s not immune from the highly contagious virus. Still, the company has been able to tackle the issues better than many labor-intensive companies that are struggling to restart operations because they lack staff due to the quarantines, isolated periods, road blockages and checkpoints.

At CTC Global, fortunately, its Chinese plant is “highly automated already,” said Sepe. “Our plant is designed to be machine dominated, with low labor content.” CTC Global, which has a joint venture in China with large electric utility, State Grid Corp. of China, also operates a plant in Indonesia. For this reason, CTC Global is less vulnerable to the virus because its production is diversified geographically.

Getting back to work

As some 100 million factory workers return to China’s automotive, consumer electronics and smartphone makers, one clear, longer-term impact will be an emphasis on robotics and automation. Robotics can reduce labor costs and increase productivity — and prevent a recurrence of future plant shutdowns.

The COVID-19 disease has infected more than 87,000 people worldwide, with China accounting for 91% of cases. Globally the death toll has surpassed 3,000, according to the latest statistics from the World Health Organization.

The coronavirus has been a wake-up call for supply chain managers and risk managers in both China and the U.S., said Rosemary Coates, executive director of the Reshoring Institute in Silicon Valley. She points to how manufacturers such as agricultural and construction equipment maker Deere & Co. are assembling crisis teams to deal with product shortages.

Identifying ways to keep factory production going in those Chinese factories that have re-opened may include the use of more robots and other automation that substitute for humans. “China bought more robots last year than any country, and now is the time to put them to work,” Coates said.

Over the past several years, the world’s second-largest economy has been undergoing a so-called “robotics revolution.” Now, the impetus is greater than ever to embrace automation or be left behind. China has become the world’s largest market for industrial robotics and the fastest-growing market worldwide, surging 21% to $5.4 billion in 2019, while global sales hit $16.5 billion, according to the International Federation of Robotics in Frankfurt.

China’s robot revolution

China counts more than 800 robot makers, including major players SIASUN and DJI Innovations. Development of robotics is part of an ambitious Made in China 2025 master plan to upgrade the nation’s manufacturing technologies.

China is on track to account for 45% of all industrial robot shipments by 2021, up from 39% in 2019, predicts the robotics research group. In the past, China has lagged behind other nations in robotic workforces, counting 97 industrial robots per 10,000 manufacturing workers, half as many industrial robots as the U.S. and one-seventh as many as South Korea, according to the robotics group.

Clearly, the virus outbreak has put a “renewed urgency behind the trend towards increased automation and use of robotics in China,” says Emil Hauch Jensen, vice president of sales at Mobile Industrial Robots in Shanghai, which is fielding dozens of requests. The company’s autonomous robots, which can move pallets and heavy loads across warehouse and factories, are being used across a wide range of industries by large players such as Ford, Airbus, Flex, Honeywell and DHL.

Jensen points out the cost benefits: one robot that can work a 24-hour shift can replace three workers and cost in the range of $43,000 to $72,000. With salaries in China going up as much as 20% annually in recent years, China business consultant Bill Edwards, CEO of Edwards Global Services in Irvine, California, foresees an inevitable push to robotics. “Wages in China are no longer cheap,” he observed.

Getting production back on stream

U.S. companies with operations in China have been hit hard by the virus. A survey by the American Chamber of Commerce Shanghai found nearly half of the 109 companies polled in that city and metro area said lack of staff is their biggest challenge over the next few weeks, while two-thirds noted they don’t have sufficient staff to run a full production line. Another one-third indicated that logistics issues will be their biggest concern while nearly all the companies said they expected their supply chains to be impacted within the next month.

Industries that are most impacted are those with large assembly operations such as auto manufacturers and electronic component makers.

Tesla’s new multi-billion-dollar plant in Shanghai resumed operation Feb. 10 after a near two-week shutdown. The assembly line at the Chinese operation is less automated than at its main plant in Fremont, partly because local labor costs in China are lower than full automation. Strategizing to prevent further disruptions, Tesla is looking to completely localize its China supply chain by the end of this year but did not respond to an inquiry about any plans to increase automation.

Apple supplier Foxconn has been moving to automate 30% of its one million factory jobs in China by 2020, which could prove fortuitous. Foxconn cut 60,000 factory jobs from its 1.2 million China workforce in 2016, but further reductions have been slow to develop. The company has acknowledged that industrial robots can’t match the cognitive ability of humans. In the current crisis, plans to reboot the use of robots could be under review, but Foxconn hasn’t signaled such a move yet.

Apple said it doesn’t expect to hit its quarterly revenue targets because its iPhone manufacturing partners are located near the outbreak center in Hubei province and it has taken longer than expected to get operations back up and running.

Multinational automotive manufacturers in China, the world’s largest car market with sales of 28 million autos in 2019, are severely impacted. Wuhan, known as the Detroit of China, is a base for auto plants including General Motors, Honda, Nissan, Peugeot and Renault. With employees staying home and supply chain disrupted, getting back into production has been a struggle at many of these plants.

Operations such as Cadillac’s new Shanghai plant that are automated have a head start. Opened in 2016, the factory features 386 robots and two fully automated production lines that do welding and painting.

A national call to action

One overriding factor that could stall further use of robotics at operations within China is controversy about robots displacing blue collar jobs. The concern is about widespread unemployment, and potentially, social unrest. With an economic slowdown in China, that issue will be prominent.

Meanwhile, with travel and transportation bans in effect in China and stores, restaurants and schools closed, robots are being deployed for a wide variety of crucial services, from disinfecting hospitals and streets to delivering food, drugs and supplies.

Delivery robots are in high demand. In Wuhan, Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com is using a fleet of autonomous robotic vehicles to deliver essential goods to residents stuck at home homes and shopping online. The company’s automated warehouses have seen daily orders nearly double from 600,000 in one week during the crisis period.

In true quick-to-implement China style — and responding to multiple requests from manufacturers, retailers and offices — Chinese robot maker Youibot created a sterilization robot, start to finish in just 14 days, said Duncan Turner, managing director of the HAX Accelerator in Shenzhen. Youibot has just signed a contract with a huge manufacturer in Suzhou to disinfect the plant and has already delivered three robots and is starting to deploy 35 robots in Shenzhen by early March, he added.

Several other robotics start-ups have been called into service, said David Sullivan, managing director of business consultancy Alliance Development Group in Silicon Valley. He named Shenzhen-based startup Pudu Technology, which aims to reduce cross infection by home delivery of drugs and meals.

The large Chinese tech conglomerates also have been called into action. Alibaba’s logistics affiliate Cainiao, which opened China’s largest automated warehouse in Wuxi in 2018, uses 700 robots to streamline and speed up order fulfillment. It has recently launched a channel to deliver medical aid donations to areas in China hit by the highly contagious virus. These include Wuhan and neighboring cities in Hubei province.

Since the virus hit, Tencent has rolled out a feature in its popular WeChat messaging app that assigns health ratings to people via QR code. Chinese citizens have to scan their codes at subway stations, malls and office buildings, and can be turned away if they’re at high risk of carrying the virus.

In this environment, China tech innovation is being tested and reimagined at new levels.

Source: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/02/the-rush-to-deploy-robots-in-china-amid-the-coronavirus-outbreak.html

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Coronavirus: China’s tech fights back – (BBC News)

Disinfecting robots, smart helmets, thermal camera-equipped drones and advanced facial recognition software are all being deployed in the fight against Covid-19 at the heart of the outbreak in China.

President Xi Jinping has called on the country’s tech sector to help battle the epidemic.

Healthcare tech is also being used to identify coronavirus symptoms, find new treatments and monitor the spread of the disease, which has so far infected more than 90,000 people worldwide.

But is it up to the job?

Robots to the rescue

Several Chinese firms have developed automated technologies for contactless delivery, spraying disinfectants and performing basic diagnostic functions, in order to minimise the risk of cross-infection.

Shenzhen-based Pudu Technology, which usually makes robots for the catering industry, has reportedly installed its machines in more than 40 hospitals around the country to help medical staff.

MicroMultiCopter, also in Shenzhen, is deploying drones to transport medical samples and conduct thermal imaging.

Meanwhile, advanced AI has been used to help diagnose the disease and accelerate the development of a vaccine.

Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant, claims its new AI-powered diagnosis system can identify coronavirus infections with 96% accuracy.

Its founder Jack Ma has just announced that his charity, the Jack Ma Foundation, will donate $2.15m (£1.6m) towards the development of a vaccine.

“In the battle against Covid-19, emerging technologies have stood out by making immense contributions in an unexpected, creative and amazingly responsive way,” said Lu Chuanying, a senior official at Shanghai-based Global Cyberspace Governance.

They have helped “arrest or contain the spread of the deadly virus, thus becoming one of the most reliable and trustworthy means of combating Covid-19,” he wrote in an article for state-run China Daily newspaper.

But is all this just for show?

“The state media apparatus, even under normal circumstances, takes every opportunity to send a message about China’s technological sophistication, even if a story has little substance to it,” notes Elliott Zaagman, who covers China’s technology industry and co-hosts the China Tech-Investor podcast.

“I suspect that most of the stories we see about disinfecting robots, drones, etc, are mostly just performative gimmicks. However, tech’s ‘less-sexy’ role in controlling this outbreak should not be dismissed,” he told the BBC.

‘Era of big data and internet’

Beyond robots and drones, China has also mobilised its sophisticated surveillance system to keep a tab on infected individuals and enforce quarantines.

Facial recognition cameras are commonplace across China, and now companies are upgrading their technology to scan crowds for fever and identify individuals not wearing masks.

SenseTime, a leading AI firm, says its contactless temperature detection software has been deployed at underground stations, schools and community centres in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. The company also claims to have a tool that can recognise faces, even if they are wearing masks, with a “relatively high degree of accuracy”.

Another Chinese AI firm, Megvii, boasts a similar temperature detection product, which has been deployed in Beijing.

“During this challenging time, we see this not as an opportunity, but our responsibility to do our part to tackle Covid-19 using our technology,” a SenseTime spokesperson told the BBC.

Chinese newspaper Global Times reports that officials in Chengdu city, Sichuan province, have been issued with smart helmets that can measure the temperature of anyone within a 5m radius, sounding an alarm if they are found to have a fever.

As Chinese citizens slowly return to work despite the virus outbreak, mobile phones have also emerged as a key tool to track the spread of the coronavirus.

An app called Alipay Health Code assigns individuals the colour green, yellow or red, depending on whether they should be allowed into public spaces or quarantined at home.

It uses big data to identify potential virus carriers, according to its developer Ant Financial. It has already been adopted in more than 200 Chinese cities.

Tencent, the company behind popular messaging app WeChat, has launched a similar QR-code-based tracking feature.

The “close contact detector” app notifies the user if they have been in close contact with a virus carrier.

“In the era of big data and internet, the movements of each person can be clearly seen. So we are different from the Sars time now,” Li Lanjuan, an adviser to the National Health Commission, said in an interview with Chinese state TV.

“With such new technologies, we should make full use of them to find and contain the source of infection.”

Privacy issues

While these new surveillance tools may be considered efficient – and perhaps necessary during a health crisis – they have prompted concerns about privacy.

Many of these health apps require users to register with their name, national identification number and phone number. Authorities have also sourced data from phone carriers, health and transport agencies and state-owned firms.

There is little transparency on how the government plans to cross-check the data, and there have been reports about personal health data being leaked on the internet.

report by the New York Times, for example, said that Alipay Health Code also appears to share information with the police.

As the apps become more popular, there’s the added fear that it could exacerbate paranoia and lead to discrimination against coronavirus patients.

Critics say China could use the health crisis as a justification to expand its already vast surveillance system, which human rights bodies have described as dystopian.

“If there’s one lesson that Chinese authorities are learning here, it’s where the ‘weak spots’ are in their surveillance apparatus,” notes Mr Zaagman.

“Privacy was already becoming a thing of the past in China. An outbreak like this will only expedite that process”.

Source: https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-51717164