Asuitcase automatically follows its owner around, turns a corner, and halts immediately when the owner stops to talk with a friend. A backpack functions as underwater propellers to help diving enthusiasts swim better in the sea. This is not science fiction.
Neither is an air purifier that rushes to a living room when it detects that someone is smoking there, or a self-driving electric scooter that swerves around obstacles and pilots itself back to a charging station.
All of these are very real and could be seen at the robot exhibition of the 2019 World Robot Conference, held in Beijing in August.
“With breakthroughs in crucial technologies and declining production costs, a wide range of new robotic forms and application scenarios is emerging,” said Xin Guobin, vice-minister of industry and information technology. “Robotics research and development is also spreading from the industrial sector to healthcare, home services, education and other areas.”
The trend comes as demand for service robots continues to rise in China, the world’s largest market for industrial robots for six consecutive years.
The country’s robotics industry is expected to be worth $8.7 billion (£7.1 billion) this year, accounting for about 30 per cent of the global robotics market, the Chinese Institute of Electronics said in a report. That figure would mark average growth of 20.9 per cent a year from 2014 to 2019.
Specifically, the market for service robots will be valued at $2.2 billion this year and boasts huge growth potential in coming years, thanks to people’s rising income and the country’s greying population, the report said.
Qi Ou, founder of ForwardX, a company founded in 2016 that has developed a smart suitcase custom-built to follow its owner, said the increasing integration of AI and robotics makes robots smarter, and more efforts are being made to leverage technological progress to enhance people’s lives.
According to Mr Qi, the company’s suitcase, called Ovis, has been implanted with sensors that allow it to follow and predict the path of its owner while avoiding obstacles. It is designed for busy travellers who seek a hands-free and stylish travel companion that can make travelling a breeze.
Ovis is equipped with five cameras, four of which form a 360-degree sensing ability to capture the environment in real time. It also has built-in facial recognition software and a body movement tracking algorithm that allows it to follow its owner closely throughout the terminal at airports, Mr Qi said.