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China science

Shenzhen to house intelligent robot branch of China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp as civil and military projects set to merge

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 March, 2016, 3:08pm
UPDATED : Friday, 05 August, 2016, 4:59pm

China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation has picked China’s booming innovation hub Shenzhen as the site of its intelligent robot branch, it said yesterday.

CASIC, one of the country’s largest state-owned military enterprises, said it will focus on the integration of civil and military projects in robot technologies.

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Moreover, the branch will act as a manufacturing base to turn cutting-edge technologies into robotic products, said Shi Xiaomin, who will run the operation. Shi declined to reveal a more detailed agenda.

“You know we have a strong military background,” he said.

“I only can say our mission is to explore how to find applications for our technologies in the civil sector and to aid further industrialization.”

CASIC falls under the direct administration of China’s central government and is chiefly devoted to missile research and development.

It established a limited liability company called Aerospace Science and Industry Intelligent Robot in Beijing last October with the aim of becoming a domestic leader in artificial intelligence.

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“CASIC will fully support the Shenzhen branch in core technology. Our main research and development resources are based in Beijing. But Shenzhen would be the best choice for our expansion in production layout,” said Shi.

“Shenzhen is close to Hong Kong and is good for attracting capital investment and helping us to internationalise,” he added.

“In addition to this, the city has a mature industrial chain for automation and robot projects.”

In January, Hong Kong Chinese University teamed up with the the Chinese Academy of Sciences to set up a research and development centre for robotics and artificial intelligence in Shenzhen.

China overtook Japan to become the world’s largest market for industrial robots in 2013. But despite various government measures and incentives, including subsidies and funding, its home-grown technology still lags that of industry leaders from overseas. China still relies largely on imports, according to industry insiders.

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Since 2014, Shenzhen, as well as other key cities in southern Guangdong province, have begun attracting investors with the goal of turning themselves into hubs for the country’s robotics industry. They are now building the largest cluster of robotics companies in China.

Provincial authorities have vowed to spend 943 billion yuan (US$144.74 billion) on replacing human labour with robots between 2015 and 2017. Cities in the province are handing out annual subsidies of between 200 million and 500 million yuan to makers of robots and to manufacturers who install robots on assembly lines.

Robots are set to invade factories in the Pearl River Delta as manufacturers gear up their investments in technology to take advantage of such incentives, according to reports.

In addition to CASIC, many Chinese research institutes are actively developing military robots. Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT) Robot Group demonstrated three models at the Beijing 2015 World Robot Conference: explosive ordnance disposal (EOD), reconnaissance and combat robots. 

The recon variant runs on a 10-12kg tracked chassis and can be carried in a soldiers' backpack, according to HIT Robot Group literature. The other two models are unlikely to have this capability due to the size of the weapons mounted on them, according to popsci.com.

The systems are remotely operated, akin to the controls of US systems like the iRobot's PackBot - one of the world's most renowned battlefield robots - or QinetiQ's TALON special weapons observation reconnaissance detection system (SWORDS) variation, which can be equipped an M16 rifle, M240 machine gun and other weapons.