Robots at Center of China’s Strategy To Leapfrog Rivals

The Canbot can say its name, respond to voice commands, and "dance" as it plays Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." Other robots China is displaying at the World Robot Conference can play badminton, sand cell phone cases and sort computer chips.

China is showcasing its burgeoning robot industry at the five-day exhibition in Beijing, part of a national effort to promote use of more advanced technologies in Chinese factories and create high-end products that redefine the meaning of "Made in China."

Apart from the cool factor, China's sweeping plans to upgrade its factories and production lines depend on building and better using advanced robots. Automation is crucial for industries facing rising labor costs and slowing growth in the work force thanks to the "one-child" policy era and aging of the population.

China will have to make big strides to leap ahead of Germany, Japan and other nations whose robots are generations ahead.

Infinities International Group, based in eastern China's Shandong, advertises its Canbot U-Partner as a service robot that could be programmed to run in shopping malls, restaurants and banks. But it's modeled on the "Pepper" robot made by Japan's SoftBank.

Nearby, Peng Zhihui and Luo Binyi stood with "Ares," a human-sized robot they designed with exposed metal arms and hands and a wide range of uses in mind, from the military to performing basic tasks in a home.

Peng and Luo, both 24, developed the mannequin-like Ares while attending college in southwestern China's Sichuan province. A Shanghai investment company pitched in some funding.

"Many robots aren't very useful right now, but will show their true value when they are used in homes in the future," Peng said.

Thousands of factories in southern China's industrial centers which long were manned by low-cost migrant workers, are now turning to robots. China has become the world's top consumer of industrial robots...

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