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Humanoids dominate spotlight at WRC 2023

China Daily | Updated: 2023-08-25 09:38

Humanoid robots perform at the WRC 2023 in Beijing on Aug 18. TANG KE/FOR CHINA DAILY

BEIJING — Chinese tech companies are venturing into human-like robotics in an attempt to cash in on huge market opportunities in the coming years.

At the weeklong World Robot Conference 2023 in Beijing, which began on Aug 16, eager attendees were treated to a remarkable display of cutting-edge robotic prowess. The humanoids arguably took center stage, astonishing visitors with mesmerizing dance routines, jaw-dropping somersaults and meticulously choreographed hand gestures.

Among more than a dozen humanoid showpieces, many eyes were on Unitree H1, a 1.8-meter-tall, 47-kilogram laser-radar-equipped humanoid that can move over 1.5 meters per second.

Its maximum knee joint torque reaches 360 newton meters and each leg has five degrees of freedom, according to Unitree Robotics, a Hangzhou-based robotics startup whose machines were featured at the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and the pre-game performance of Super Bowl LVII in 2023.

A demo clip played at the booth showed that the lanky, futuristic robot was capable of restoring balance within two steps in the wake of an abrupt kick and could even slightly sidestep in advance after sensing a human's foot-lifting intention.

Unitree H1 has even impressed tech industry leaders, with Andrej Karpathy, a founding member at OpenAI, the developer of ChatGPT, tweeting, "I want one. Or two. A few."

Karpathy's wish may soon come true, as Unitree developers hope to roll out their robotic tech to industrial and consumer projects in the coming years.

CyberOne, an emotion-detecting humanoid robot developed by Xiaomi, the renowned Chinese consumer electronics manufacturer, was also a magnet at the just-concluded WRC. Measuring 170 centimeters and weighing 52 kg, it supports up to 21 degrees of freedom of motion and achieves a real-time response speed that allows full human movement simulation.

"Humanoids can integrate the functions of multiple single-purpose devices like mechanical arms," said Shao Yuanxin, Xiaomi's project manager. "Cyber-One is expected to be used in Xiaomi's smart manufacturing."

A group of humanoids with extremely flexible joints cut dashing figures when they performed the complex Chinese choreography of Thousand-Hand Bodhisattva at the 2023 World Artificial Intelligence Conference held in Shanghai last month. At this year's WRC, the developer, Dataa Robotics, programmed the Cloud Ginger robots to play basketball, and, true to the humans they emulate, some of their shots missed the basket.

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