Artificial intelligence

Chinese AI start-up Megvii expands into hardware with robot for iPhone X assembler Foxconn

The company says the robot is being tested with Foxconn, while it is also working on other robots that can sort packages

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 November, 2017, 12:16pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 November, 2017, 8:58pm

Chinese facial recognition systems start-up Megvii, also known as Face++, is expanding its push into hardware with the development of a robot for contract manufacturer Foxconn’s iPhone assembly lines.

The robot, currently being tested, will enable the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer to save a manual step in the manufacturing of the iPhone X, the most demanding smartphone model in terms of production, according to Megvii’s founder and CEO, Yin Qi.

“With new emerging technologies, we can address soft spots in industrial manufacturing one at a time,” Yin told a forum organised by the Chinese news outlet Caijing in Beijing on Wednesday.

He declined to give any details of the robot and what role it may have in the production of the iPhone X.

China is the biggest market for industrial robots, accounting for 30 per cent of the total supply last year, according to the International Federation of Robotics. Chinese robot suppliers’ global market share was 31 per cent in 2016.

“China is expected to manufacture more industrial robots and contribute 40 per cent of the output next year,” said Wang Tianmiao, professor of mechanical engineering and automation at Beihang University.

Taiwan-based Foxconn, the trading name of Hon Hai Precision Industry, has introduced thousands of robots into its huge manufacturing plants in recent years. A month ago, it led a US$460 million financing round for Megvii, pushing the start-up’s valuation over the US$1 billion mark.

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Founded in 2011 by Yin and two Tsinghua University schoolmates, Megvii provides facial recognition systems to financial firms including Alipay, China Merchants Bank and CITIC, as well as to smartphone company Xiaomi, technology firm Lenovo and car rental company Car Inc.

Its technology is used in surveillance cameras, paying for food at KFC outlets and at boarding gates at airports, among others.

“Although our edge remains in recognition technology, Megvii’s strategy is to empower AI in different industries,” the 29-year-old Yin said.

Megvii is also working on developing robots for logistics warehouses that can be used to sort packages, said Yin.

It is one of a number of Chinese firms looking at broader applications of AI, a field the Chinese government has made a priority, laying out a goal to make the country an “innovation centre for AI” by 2030.

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Earlier this month, China’s leading search engine operator and AI firm, Baidu, unveiled its own voice-activated smart speaker Raven H and two robot models. US technology giants Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Apple have all been sharpening their focus on bringing AI to daily life through speakers, smartphones and other devices.