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RoboPony: Chinese robot maker sees demand surge amid virus

SeattlePI.com Friday, 20 March 2020 ()
BEIJING (AP) — While other industries struggle, Liu Zhiyong says China’s virus outbreak is boosting demand for his knee-high, bright yellow robots to deliver groceries and patrol malls looking for shoppers who fail to wear masks.

Liu, CEO of ZhenRobotics Corp., is among millions of entrepreneurs who are gradually getting back to work after China declared victory over the coronavirus that shut down the world’s second-largest economy.

ZhenRobotics’ flagship model is the six-wheeled, 68-centimeter-tall (27-inch-tall) RoboPony. The self-driving cart is sold to retailers, hospitals, malls and apartment complexes.

Unlike airlines, hotels and other industries that face a long and uncertain struggle to recover, Liu said his orders have tripled since the outbreak began.

“The epidemic made people aware of the fragility of human beings,” Liu said.

“Robots can make up for this vulnerability and provide services people can trust,” he said. “Trust in robots has been enhanced dramatically.”

Robots for use in factories and consumer industries are near the top of the ruling Communist Party’s wish list for technology development.

Chinese leaders see them as a profitable export and a way to make up for a shrinking workforce as the population ages.

Beijing has spent heavily to set up robotics departments at universities and research institutes. Private sector developers can apply for research grants and other support.

ZhenRobotics, founded in 2016, does its research and development in the Chinese capital’s Zhongguancun university district, a hub for tech companies. Liu said the company gets a break on rent and other official support.

Its researchers are working on technologies including machine learning, computer vision and autonomous navigation, according to...
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