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Robots offer a helping hand in the home

Description:"It's beyond my expectation. The robot measures the height and the width of a window before mapping the best route to take while cleaning. The bigger the window, the better the robot works," Wang said. "It is not a toy, but a real helping h

Wang Liming, a 29-year-old internet company employee in Beijing, has developed a new habit this year. After she comes home from work every other day, she turns on a robot that cleans her apartment's windows by itself.


A home service robot for the elderly makes visitors laugh at a technology expo held in Hong Kong. [Photo/China News Service]

"It's beyond my expectation. The robot measures the height and the width of a window before mapping the best route to take while cleaning. The bigger the window, the better the robot works," Wang said. "It is not a toy, but a real helping hand."

She bought the robot for about 1,800 yuan ($260) in April, and she has been using the low-noise, automated machine ever since. "It works pretty well on hard-to-reach, high-risk windows," she added.

Wang is one of a growing number of Chinese consumers who are embracing household robots to improve their daily lives, amid the rising income and rapid development of the service robotics industry.

On Nov 11, the annual Singles Day online shopping festival, sales of one of the most popular smart vacuum robots made by Ecovacs Robotics Co-China's largest in-home robotic products manufacturer-exceeded 100 million yuan within just a half hour.

Ecovacs' products, which include floor sweeping and window cleaning robots, reached a sales record of over 700 million yuan during the peak season beginning Nov 11.

"China's swelling middle-income group has rising demand for domestic cleaning, home security and surveillance robots," said Luo Jun, CEO of the Asian Manufacturing Association.

According to the International Federation of Robotics, global sales of privately used service robots are forecast to reach 35 million units by year-end, and household robots will be right at the top of more consumers' future shopping lists.

"The advancement of artificial intelligence technologies is making household robots smarter. They are no longer just eye-catching toys, but something that can really make life better and more efficient," Luo said.

One of the biggest breakthroughs is reflected in computer vision technology, which can help robots to better map out cleaning routes. The wider application of that technology also lowers production costs, luring more consumers to buy, he added.

This rising trend is not lost on senior executives. Domestic enterprises are scrambling to grasp the opportunity.

Chinese smartphone vendor Xiaomi Corp, for instance, has launched a string of smart vacuum cleaners. Priced from 1,300 to 2,500 yuan, the machines are equipped with multiple sensors and a central processing unit.

Instead of bouncing around the room and haphazardly picking up debris, Xiaomi said the robots measure the size of the room and map the best route to take.

"Robots can make doing housework interesting and cool," said Liu De, co-founder of Xiaomi.

Chinese home appliance firms, such as Haier Group and TCL Corp, are also exploring the niche market with similar products, causing the market to become increasingly crowded.

How to stand out amid the fierce competition has become a key question.

David Qian, vice-chairman of Ecovacs, said floor and window-cleaning robots have already become everyday necessities, just like washing machines in many developed countries, and future domestic robots will be more intelligent. Robots that just clean the floors won't be enough.

"While making robots versatile, it is important to ensure they are easy to use," Qian said. Suzhou, Jiangsu-based Ecovacs is set to export its smart vacuum cleaners to markets involved in the Belt and Road Initiative, having already established a strong presence in developed economies such as the United States, Germany, Italy and Japan.

Thanks to the progress of voice recognition technology, a string of home entertainment and security robots are also coming to the market. They can read out or display news and weather bulletins, enable home surveillance via livestreaming, and detect potential dangers such as smoke or suspicious movement.

In 2016, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology unveiled an ambitious plan to sell more than 30 billion yuan of service robots by 2020, to meet the demand from the healthcare, education, entertainment, medical and defense industries.

The demand for elderly care robots is particularly strong. More than 240 million people were 60 years of age or older in China in 2017, and the figure is estimated to hit 400 million in 2033, according to official data.

One company that is moving quickly to meet such demand is AvatarMind, a Nanjing, Jiangsu-based robotics maker. It has developed iPal, a humanoid robot to serve the elderly.

The iPal robot can perform Chinese opera, reacts to touch and voice inputs by turning its head toward users, and can hold simple conversations. It can also give weather reports and remind users to take their medicine.

Wang Wenping, marketing director of AvatarMind, said there are three stages in the evolution of the service robots in China: tool, governor and companion.

"China is transforming from the "tool" stage, where robots are mainly used to do household chores, to the "governor" and "companion" stages, where the main objective is social interaction," Wang added.

Source:China Daily  Editor:Lucky

(Source_title:Robots offer a helping hand in the home)