Cy­ber­friends set out to prove worth to shop­pers

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - BUSINESS - By MENG FANBIN meng­fan­bin@chi­

Go­ing shop­ping, even in a gi­ant mall, can be a breeze, if you have a per­sonal shop­ping as­sis­tant who takes all the pain away — giv­ing you ad­vice on which clothes suit you, guid­ing you to the near­est toi­let, let­ting you in on the best stores for dis­counts and even lug­ging around the shop­ping bags.

For­get boyfriends, who are usu­ally im­pa­tient and eas­ily get lost. The U05 ro­bot can promptly and tire­lessly meet all your shop­ping needs.

Step into a mall that you have never set foot in and the U05 can rec­og­nize “who you are” and take you ef­fort­lessly to the prod­ucts you re­ally want, based on data about your pre­vi­ous spend­ing habits, ac­cord­ing to Zhao Bo­tao, di­rec­tor of the marketing de­part­ment of Can­bot Tech­nol­ogy Co Ltd.

Pro­duced by the Shen­zhen-based Can­bot, the U05 is said by its man­u­fac­tur­ers to be only the sec­ond mass-pro­duced ro­bot launched glob­ally — af­ter the Ja­pan’s Pep­per ro­bot made by SoftBank — that can be fully en­gaged in com­mer­cial use.

SoftBank re­ports Pep­per was launched in pi­lot pro­grams last year to help cus­tomers in Cal­i­for­nian re­tail stores — and the re­sult was a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in cus­tomers.

In July, the first 500 U05 are due to come off the as­sem­bly line, and all have been sold out, mostly re­served by shop­ping cen­ters, museums and banks, Zhao said.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port by the Min­istry of In­dus­try and In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy, China’s ser­vice ro­bot mar­ket has en­tered a rapid growth phase, with an­nual sales ex­pected to ex­ceed 30 bil­lion yuan ($4.4 bil­lion) by 2020.

In the next few years, the an­nual growth rate of China’s ser­vice ro­bot sec­tor will be around 17 per­cent, and the rate of mar­ket pen­e­tra­tion will grad­u­ally in­crease, which means de­mand for ser­vice ro­bots will grow, ac­cord­ing to statis­tics from the Prospec­tive In­dus­trial Re­search In­sti­tute, an in­dus­try con­sult­ing com­pany.

The mar­ket for ser­vice ro­bots is larger than that of in­dus­trial ro­bots, whose mar­ket is es­ti­mated by an­a­lysts to grow 6 per­cent an­nu­ally.

Ser­vice ro­bots help hu­man be­ings, typ­i­cally by do­ing a task that is repet­i­tive, dull, or dirty like house­hold clean­ing. They typ­i­cally are au­tonomous but can also be op­er­ated by a built-in con­trol sys­tem, with man­ual over­ride op­tions.

Ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Fed- bil­lion

pro­jected an­nual sales of China’s ser­vice ro­bots by 2020

er­a­tion of Ro­bot­ics, the essen­tial dif­fer­ence with an in­dus­trial ro­bot is that the lat­ter’s work­ing en­vi­ron­ment is fixed and the ser­vice ro­bot’s work­ing en­vi­ron­ment is un­known in the vast ma­jor­ity of cases.

The ser­vice ro­bot has great devel­op­ment po­ten­tial and a broad mar­ket ap­peal in China, be­cause of soar­ing la­bor costs. Ro­bots are ex­pected to re­place work­ers in more and more sec­tors, said a re­search note from the Prospec­tive In­dus­trial Re­search In­sti­tute.

“Sup­pose a com­pany has to pay 120,000 yuan per year in wages for a staff mem­ber. If a com­pany buys a U05 ro­bot, it’s only a one-off ex­pense of 188,000 yuan, with­out other ad­di­tional spend­ing,” Zhao said.

Last year, Shen Guoxin, vice-min­is­ter of in­dus­try and in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy, told a meet­ing that ser­vice ro­bots could play a very im­por­tant role and their devel­op­ment should be pro­moted.

The re­marks were in­ter­preted by in­dus­try in­sid­ers as an in­di­ca­tion that ser­vice ro­bots will see faster devel­op­ment in the com­ing years, sup­ported by new poli­cies and reg­u­la­tions.

The min­istry is now or­ga­niz­ing ex­perts to study and for­mu­late stan­dards and cer­ti­fi­ca­tion con­di­tions for cater­ing ser­vice ro­bots, so as to fur­ther stan­dard­ize the in­dus­try and en­sure prod­uct qual­ity, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by Shang­hai Se­cu­ri­ties.

Some big com­pa­nies have been in­volved in the ser­vice ro­bot field, hop­ing to tap into de­mand from high growth in­dus­tries.

How­ever, small and medium-sized ro­bot com­pa­nies are still fac­ing fund­ing chal­lenges. An­a­lysts say re­search and devel­op­ment of a ro­bot usu­ally takes a long time, with the U05 ro­bot for ex­am­ple hav­ing spent three years in the lab.

That’s partly be­cause the re­quire­ments for ser­vice ro­bots — for in­tel­li­gence, safety and re­li­a­bil­ity — are far higher than for other kinds of cy­ber prod­ucts.

Zhao said many ro­bots cur­rently in the mar­ket fail to give cus­tomers a sat­is­fy­ing user ex­pe­ri­ence, which has in turn weak­ened their en­thu­si­asm to buy more prod­ucts.

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