China has taken a substantial lead in robotics, although the opinion comes from the Chinese themselves. While the claim may be true, it is certainly self-serving.
The race for the lead in robotics had several countries claiming large advances. The same holds true for some universities and private research organizations. All in all, since robotics is not a single industry, one group could be ahead in a small part of the business but well behind in others.
There is a second debate at the center of the robotics race. That is whether robots will trigger the unemployment of tens, if not hundreds, of millions of people worldwide, or whether robots will become assistants to people that help them do their jobs — even menial ones that do not require education or training. The jury will not be able to settle on who is right about this until there are enough robots to affect the labor market one way or another.
The People’s Daily, China’s official newspapers reports:
“China’s robotic development has entered a new stage, requiring further technological integration among different sectors,” Cao Jianlin, former Vice Minister of China’s Ministry of Science and Technology said during the summit. He further noted that China is emerging as a global leader in AI and robotics, and the country is aiming to move up the value chain.
Development in China’s robotics industry has skyrocketed in recent years, with over 6,500 robotics companies opening their doors in China by the end of 2017. According to statistics issued by the International Federation of Robots, China has already become the biggest global shareholder in robotics, with a net worth of $30 billion.
The International Federation of Robots issued a report on the global robotics business. It did show China in the lead based on “Estimated worldwide annual supply of industrial robots” with about 87,000 units. This was followed by South Korea at 41,400, Japan with 38,600 and the United States at 31,400.
Is China ahead? At least in units built.