30 Dec 2015
Service Robots, Industrial Automatons and Drones Conquer Guangzhou
The second part of the China (Guangzhou) Intelligent Equipment and Robot Expo review sees service robots set to replace humans in hazardous environments, while industrial constructs look to revolutionise precision in the workplace.
More than 100 manufacturers of robots and drones took part in this year's China (Guangzhou) Intelligent Equipment and Robot Expo, with exhibitors tending to have a focus on the development of service robots. A wide range of drones, though, was also to be seen, as were several of the more innovative applications of information technology.
According to figures from China Robot Industry Alliance, sales of robots soared 76.8% in the first half of 2015, reaching a total of 11,275 units. The figures also indicated that the sector can now be divided into three broad categories – industrial robots (for applications in manufacturing), service robots (home or commercial use) and specialised robots.
Overall, most exhibitors leant toward the service robot category, with a number of patrol robots, robot waiters, robot receptionists and robot guides all on show. Underlining their wide range of applications, these robots came in a variety of shapes and sizes.
Improved Human Interaction
Gorobo, a smart patrol robot (also known as Shouhusheng Yihao) was the highlight of the stand of Gosuncn, a Guangzhou-based technology group. Standing more than a metre tall, it featured a built-in video camera in its head, facilitating the capture of facial image data in a split second. Throughout the course of the show, the robot demonstrated its ability to steer clear of obstacles and patrol continuously, proving its real-world abilities in this busy exhibition space.
According to Wang Zhenyong, the company's Product Director, Gorobo can replace security guards when it comes to routine patrol duties. It can detect any abnormality during a patrol, such as strangers, faces that match cloud-held suspect information, as well as non-human hazards, such as smoke, fire and explosions. Its built-in camera can record any suspicious event as it occurs and transmit the information back to the control room, which can then remotely instruct the robot to investigate further. The robot takes three hours to charge and can then operate for about seven hours.
Wang says the patrol robot's effectiveness is down to far more than just hardware and remote control. He said the company had developed its own data mining algorithms and big data analytics, enabling the system to identify intruders from their facial features in less than one second.
He believes this year has seen rapid growth in the service robot industry, with competition increasingly keen, but prospects remaining promising, especially for those willing to invest heavily in R&D. In line with this, Gosuncn plans monthly upgrades for its robot security guard.
Although the product, originally launched in November 2015, cannot completely replace humans, it can offer a considerable saving on security expenditure, especially at night. The standalone robot has a unit price of Rmb120,000, while the whole customisable system can be bought for Rmb200,000. In addition to humidity and airborne particulate pollution detection, a hazardous gas detection function may also be added.
As well as robots designed to keep people out, some have been created to welcome visitors in. The Empress Wu (Wumeiniang) receptionist robot, courtesy of Shenzhen's Zhongke World Robot Co, for instance, has been designed to resemble a real woman. It can talk and its eyes, head, waist, hands and feet all move, a facility designed to replicate human communication at an office reception desk.
Domestic vs Foreign Robots
Apart from service robots, industrial robots were also widely featured, with GSK CNC Equipment Co proving a specialist in the field. The company mainly provides complete sets of CNC machine tool systems (including CNC systems, servo motors and servo drives. It also offers industrial robots complete with integrated application solutions, all-electric precision moulding machines and CNC machine tools.
According to Deng Hui, the company's Application Technician, its RH series of welding robots not only offers a precision service, but also removes humans from the dangers of exposure to intense heat and radiation. The RH06 welding robot, for instance, can carry a maximum load of 6 kg. When used in conjunction with a welding positioner, it can reduce the number of workplace clamping operations needed as part of any given process, improving efficiency and enhancing the quality of the finished welding seam. It can also effectively improve operational safety, while reducing labour intensity and the incidence of work-related injuries.
Despite this, Deng conceded that a gap remains between the quality of his company's products and those offered by a number of the more well-known overseas brands. By way of compensating for this, he cited the quality of GSK's after-sale service and its facility to provide bespoke solutions.
Diverse Drone Applications
Unsurprisingly, this year the event also played host to all manner of drones. These ranged from small radio-controlled toy plane for kids to agricultural and industrial-grade drones.
Drawing particular attention was Air Hercules (Kongzhong Dalishi), a drone crop sprayer on show from Yintong, a specialist in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). As well as its manufacturing interests, Yintong also engages in research, training, marketing, leasing and agricultural services. Both the company's core staff and technologies come from Taiwan and the US.
According to Dai Fengwu, the company's Marketing Director, the Air Hercules can carry a maximum load of 45 kg, has a flight time of around 10 minutes and is the largest drone of its kind available on the mainland. It is capable of spraying pesticide across 40 mu (2.7 hectares) of farmland in a single pass and can cover at least 800 mu (53 hectares) per day.
Dai says the system offers an efficiency around 40 times that of manual labour. It flies at a height of 1.5-2 metres above ground and can hover at fixed spots for intensive prevention and the treatment of specific plant diseases. Using the drone is said to both cut down on labour costs as well as reducing the level of pesticides and water consumed. It also ensures human workers are not exposed to potentially toxic chemicals.
Another company specialising in industrial grade drones was Guangdong Aircam UAV Technology. According to its Customer Relations Manager, Wen Zhibin, Aircam works in association with a German micro drones firm on the development of drone technology, with a particular responsibility for production and marketing across the mainland.
At this year's show, the company was highlighting its carbon-fibre MD4-1000, a lightweight drone, with strong impact resistance and impressive stability. Boasting a longer flight time than a number of similar products on the market, it can fly for more than 50 minutes and reach a height of 1 km. In terms of point-to-point flight, it can fly for 10-20 km and carry a load of 1-2 kg. It is priced between Rmb700,000 and Rmb1 million, depending on the configuration required.
According to Wen, the drone can resist winds of up to Force Six (around 38-49 km/h), as well as being able to fly in torrential rain. The drone's motor drone can also continue to function reliably after running idle for 3,000 hours. It has particular applications in terms of public security, topographic mapping, pipeline inspection and disaster relief operations.
At present, Wen said the MD4-1000 has an annual sales volume of between 100 and 200 units across the mainland. The company now has plans to enhance its product quality and stability on a yearly basis. It will launch the MD4-3000 next year, a unit said to offer improved stability and loading performance.
The China (Guangzhou) Intelligent Equipment and Robot Expo 2015 took place at the China Import and Export Fair Pazhou Complex from 5-8 December. The event space covered an area of nearly 20,000 square metres.
Xing Bin, Special Correspondent, Guangzhou
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