Drones, humanoids and the Hand of Hope: Top 5 robotics companies operating in Hong Kong and their weird and wonderful creations

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 September, 2015, 8:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 September, 2015, 8:00am

Hong Kong is using its proximity to manufacturers on the Chinese mainland to build up its expertise in robotics and is investing in more local talent and luring foreign companies to bolster the local industry. 

Hong Kong Science and Technology Park has identified robotics as a core area of focus and is helping related companies move to the city or base their research and development labs there.

While the University of Hong Kong’s HK$15 million (US$1.94 million) robot Atlas stumbled and flunked out of a recently held international competition, these five locally-based firms are making strides in the field. 

Hanson Robotics
Hanson Robotics, which is responsible for the human-like robots Han and Sophia, relocated to Hong Kong from Texas in 2014. The two robots, which can speak and interact with humans using artificial intelligence, are being developed for use with the elderly or people with autism. Beyond their ability to talk and make true-to-life facial expressions, the robots look even more human-like thanks to a proprietary rubbery nanomaterial that is used to replicate skin called Frubber.

The world’s largest drone manufacturer is the one that got away for Hong Kong after its mainland Chinese founder failed to find government support in the city and opted for a base in Guangdong’s Shenzhen. But now it is back with a new research and development base at Hong Kong Science and Technology Park. Valued at around US$10 billion, DJI controls 70 per cent of the global market for civilian drones.

The Hong Kong-developed Hand of Hope stroke rehabilitation glove emits tiny electrical shocks to help patients regain the use of their hands. Designed by occupational therapist Michael Tsui Kam-fai in collaboration with Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University, the device can be taken home by stroke patients for continue treatment outside the physiotherapist’s office. Hand of Hope is used in 10 local rehabilitation centres and has been approved for use in Taiwan, Singapore, Ukraine and Saudi Arabia.

Insight Robotics
Founded in 2009, Hong Kong start-up Insight Robotics has developed a remote detection system for wildfires. The system, which uses a pan-tilt robot with thermal imaging and advanced artificial intelligence vision technology can detect wildfires within a 5-kilometre radius. Insight Robotics has also developed software for drones to detect disease in plantations, such as palm oil, a task that would otherwise be too costly and labour intensive.

Avoid dealing with real people when tired or hungover in the morning by ordering a coffee using the CafeX app while waiting at its kiosk. Once ordered, a robot arm will collect your beverage from one of two coffee machines and deliver it to a hatch so you can collect it. After testing this novel approach in Hong Kong Science and Technology Park, the firm is looking for other locations in the city with an eye to expand later this year.