Chinese robotics companies are preparing for a boost in business as China steps out of the COVID-19 era and refocuses on economic growth.
The nation's economy is picking up growth momentum with the help of technology industry from robotics to AI, providing a plethora of business opportunities for companies with inhouse technologies.
"We can see the business is coming back," said Xu Zhenhua, founder and CEO of Shanghai-based ULS Robotics. The five-year-old company develops robotic exoskeletons, which are wearable devices used to support people's actions such as carrying heavy boxes with instant strength boost. Since the end of last year, the company saw some existing orders resumed and partnered with colleges for further technology research. It even got new orders from new clients in the banking sector, added Xu.
It was a different situation for Xu and his company before China eased its COVID-19 measures last December, a major policy shift that was aimed to balance epidemic control and livelihoods.
At the peak of the pandemic, ULS Robotics' operations was crippled as suppliers' factories were closed and R&D stalled. Xu said the pandemic brought a "systematic impact" to the company's business.
"We had products designed to facilitate airport staff to move luggage around in a more efficient, easier way," he said. However, the demand for the products dropped dramatically as the airport capacity declined due to COVID-19 curbs. "It's a direct blow on our business," Xu said.
The industry watchdog acted quickly to revive the robotics industry soon after China reopened. In January, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology released new guidelines to push forward robotics application in diverse sectors including manufacturing, agriculture, medicare, education and elder care service.
A Chinese robotics industrial report released by The Chinese Institute of Electronics shows the revenue of robotics industry in China in 2021 exceeded 130 billion yuan with 366,000 industrial robotics units, 10 times more that it was in 2015. China is the world's largest market for industrial robotics.
The ministry's guidelines pledged to promote the exoskeleton and care robots applied to the elderly care scenarios to assist the elderly live better. Different from fully automated robots, the exoskeletons can compensate human's strength and stamina as well as keep their flexibility. It involves an array of advanced technologies such as sensors, power and computer systems.
Although exoskeletons are more often seen in industrial use, the technology has the potential to be widely used in daily life. It is a powerful technology to assist the elderly to walk and practice physical therapy, said Xu. ULS Robotics has been researching the potential of the technology in elder care service and will release a consumer product for the elderly by the end of the year, he added.
Xu expects exoskeleton technology to be as popular as people using smartphones as the business booms. "We are expecting the exoskeleton will be part of people's lives," he said.