China Showcases Cutting-Edge Humanoid Robotics

China Showcases Cutting-Edge Humanoid Robotics
China Showcases Cutting-Edge Humanoid Robotics

A disembodied woman's head mugged and grimaced, aping the facial expressions of a user on a nearby laptop as visitors to the China Humanoid Robot Developer Conference watched in fascinated unease.

The wide, slightly frantic eyes left no doubt the technology was firmly in "uncanny valley" territory but the field is nonetheless attracting increasing attention in China, both from investors and the government.

Outside the conference meeting rooms, around 30 companies displayed bionic hands, flickering faces and bipedal robots that stomped around the room, steadying themselves when demonstrators knocked them off balance.

A crowd gathered at a demonstration for Fourier Intelligence, which has started mass production of its GR-1 bipedal robot in what it says is a world first.

Chinese President Xi Jinping met Fourier's leaders on an inspection tour in Shanghai in December, a sign of the growing importance the central government has assigned to emerging technologies such as robotics.

Fourier's founder said that Xi had asked whether it was possible to talk to the bipedal robot and get it to perform basic tasks.

Beijing is not the only interested party.

At the disembodied head booth, the team said their ultimate goal was to make impersonal robots such as the GR-1 seem more human.

"We hope that they can enter the household service industry," said Zhu Yongtong, a member of the Shanghai DROID ROBOT team.

Another company's attempt at humanisation was to equip robots with visors that projected video-generated eyes.

The mood at this week's conference was optimistic, with sights set firmly on the future.