How China aims to dominate the world of robotics

September 17, 2018

Robotics and automation are designed to make work easier and more efficient, especially useful when productivity needs a boost or the work is dull, repetitive, or dangerous

While the development of talking humanoids may be years away, industrial robots are already helping to increase efficiency and productivity in many industries

Robotics through time


With the ability to lift a two-tonne weight and the accuracy to place it within 1/10,000 of an inch of its target, the robotic arm developed by George Devol and Joseph Engelberger was the first industrial robot ever registered


General Motors installed the first assembly line production robot to stack hot pieces of diecast metal. The robot was controlled by commands stored in a magnetic drum


Metallverken, a company in Sweden, installed the first industrial robot in Europe


Hitachi of Japan developed the first vision-based automated robot to assemble objects directly from plan drawings


For the first time, hydraulic robots were installed in a production line at the Mercedes Benz assembly plant in Sindelfingen, Germany


Automakers Fiat in Italy, and Nissan in Japan installed spot welding robots on some of their production lines


The first robot with six electromagnetically driven axes was introduced by Kuka Robotics Corporation of Germany. Each axis defines the robot’s ability to move in a certain way


Richard Hohn of Cincinnati Milacron Corporation introduced the first commercial minicomputer-controlled industrial robot


For the first time, robots were used in space. The Viking 1 spacecraft included a robotic arm to collect samples on Mars


Nachi Fujikoshi Corporation of Japan developed the first motor-driven robot to replace hydraulic robots


IBM developed the AML, a software language for robotic applications in manufacturing, spurring the development of other application programmes


Kuka launched the first personal computer-based robot that allowed for real-time control of movements


Reis Robotics patented a system that guided a robot’s movements using a laser integrated into its arm


Kuka introduced the robocoaster, a robotic arm that whirled passengers in the air, one of the first robotic applications for the entertainment sector


The first humanoid robot in history, known as R2B, was launched onto the International Space Station

Share this story

Today, many tasks in manufacturing, testing or development are conducted by robots. The automotive and electronics industries have embraced robots as essential components for gaining a competitive edge

The industrial family

According to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), the following are the most common robots today iin automation

This robot has two parallel rotary joints that allow it to move in a single plane

A cartesian robot has three joints, with their range of motion defined by the cartesian coordinate system

This robot’s arm has at least three rotary joints

The arm of this robot has both a prismatic, or sliding, joint and a rotary joint

The allowable range of motion on this robot is based on a cylindrical coordinate system

Excluded from the IFR classifications, this remote-controlled robot is becoming popular in the warehousing industry as it replaces the lift trucks operated by humans

China’s robot-makers want to dominate their domestic market, aiming to supply 50 per cent of local demand by 2020, rising to 70 per cent by 2025

IFR defines robot density as the number of industrial robots per 10,000 industrial workers. South Korea operated eight times more robots than China in 2017, but the IFR forecasts a rapid escalation in the number of robots deployed in China

has robots per 10,000 industrial workers

and ranks as the in the index of robots in relation to human workers.
Explore the robot density in other markets:

Dipping into the robotic world

Various branches of engineering are dedicated to designing, programming and developing “custom” robots for specific tasks and disciplines

Robots need custom software to operate; the more complex the robot’s task, or tasks, the more intricate the software. The software can link them to an external computer, other robots, or if stored in an internal processor, even make them autonomous

To save design time and increase workplace safety, robots first must be tested and configured in a simulated environment before becoming fully operational

Testing robots in simulated spaces
Drop the instructions in the queue, then test your robot


Set all the instructions

The interactive graphic simulates how robots are coded, reflecting how five simple instructions can be arranged in different combinations, only one of which produces the correct production procedure

That’s the point of virtual testing and adjustment in robots before they start real-world operations.The correct sequence of commands is as follows:

  1. go_right
  2. perforate
  3. drill_up
  4. go_left
  5. origin

In plain English, the commands in the correct sequence instruct the robot to do the following:

  1. Move to the right and find the box using the scanner
  2. Drill a hole in the box, then let the box continue on the conveyor belt
  3. Turn off and retract the drill
  4. Move to the left
  5. Return to the initial position to repeat the sequence
secret combination

A visual representation of the correct code sequence

An articulated arm performs a series of instructions stored in its memory. These actions can be as simple as welding parts on an assembly line. They can also involve complex processes such as the chemical experiments conducted by the Curiosity Rover on the surface of Mars, which received instructions from Earth


Here are some of the awards that this graphic has obtained

  • Bronze Medal

    Society For News Design
    Edition 40

Follow our graphics team

Enjoying South China Morning Post graphics?

Here are some other digital native projects you might want to visit

Or just visit our graphics home page

Hi, Internet Explorer user!

This site has some features that may not be compatlibe with your browser. Should you wish to view content, switch browsers to either Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox to get an awesome experience