Rise of the machine


Efficient: A waitress passing two server robots at a restaurant in Cixi, east China’s Zhejiang. A newly opened restaurant in Cixi has introduced two server robots which can help deliver food, collect empty dishes as well as offer cuisine introductions. — Xinhua

IN a restaurant newly opened in Chengdu, capital city of Sichuan province, four robots are busy waiting tables.

The robots, 1.3 metres tall and capable of lifting up to 3kg, can deliver dishes, collect empty plates and communicate with customers in simple sentences.

Restaurant owner Zong Ning said that one such robot could serve 10 tables, replacing at least two waiters.

“The robots are 100% obedient and require charging only once a day. They are more efficient than waiters and waitresses,” said Zong.

Each of the robots costs 70,000 yuan (RM39,672). Zong said that it would take just one year to recover the money he has spent buying the robots compared with the money he is saving on human labour costs.

While consumers are still impressed by robot waiters employed by restaurants, it is easy to imagine that they will appear more and more in our daily lives. Some might even take over our jobs.

In October, Oxford University published a study of the application of robotics in the US labour force. It found that it is possible that as much as 47% of the labour force could be replaced with robots over the next two decades.

In China, the robotic revolution is moving forward in giant steps. In order to offset rising labour costs and a shortage of skilled workers, major problems plaguing China, robots are applied for many different uses.

Statistics show that industrial robots are being used in 25 sectors in China, including food, chemicals, electronics and automobiles.

According to the China Robot Industry Alliance, China has already overtaken Japan as the world’s largest consumer of robots, buying more than one-fifth of the world’s robot output.

Last year, 36,860 industrial robots were sold in the Chinese market, a growth of 36% year-on-year.

Song Xiaogang, president of the CRIA, said that the number of robots sold in China would reach 50,000 this year

“From now on, the robot industry will maintain an annual growth rate of 40% for a long period of time,” he said.

The rapid growth has encouraged Chinese companies to share a slice of the market.

By the end of October, China had more than 430 companies manufacturing robots. An average of two new companies joins the sector every week.

Song said that apart from robotic workers in manufacturing industries, which account for most robot application in China, he sees a growing demand for self-driving cars, delivery drones and even robot journalists by 2030.

“Many people find the artificial intelligence in movies like Interstellar amazing. It is not impossible that they will exist in the future. By then, robots will take over many human jobs,” said Song.

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