December 30, 2015      

A coalition of Chinese investors and the city of Guangzhou are providing $20 million to the Israeli Robotics Association for research and development of robots for industrial automation, customer service, and construction.

China is providing the funding and mass-production capabilities for the robotics R&D. In return, it hopes to get help making its manufacturing and entire economy more high-tech.

Coalition members include Siasun Robot & Automation Co., China’s largest robotics company, and China Vanke Co., the country’s largest real estate firm. Other members include Guangdong Akode Smart Logistics Technologies Ltd., Foshan Yitai Medical Supplies Co., and four investment funds based in Guangzhou.

“China, the world’s No. 1 producer, faces a manufacturing crisis, as it has been relying on cheap labor that is now getting more expensive,” said Zhang Jin, director of marketing at Shanghai-based Siasun. “As a result, we have chosen to formulate a new industrial production model which relies on robots. Building a robotics industry is an important strategic objective of China.”

“In China, we have about 30 industrial robots per 10,000 workers, compared to 62 robots in countries such as Japan, meaning that there is a great potential in China for research and implementation of robot tech,” he said.

Zhang added that he thinks the market for robots to help consumers in shops and as waiters in restaurants will be “even bigger than the industrial market.”

Vanke’s industrial parks and construction sites are another growth area for robotics, especially as labor costs rise.

“Young people in China do not want to work in the field,” said Yang Gaofei, a manager at Shenzhen-based Vanke. “Robots can be used as security guards, cleaners, and providers of services at our many properties.”

In addition, the coalition hopes to develop robots for other business and healthcare uses.

According to Yang, robots can “provide care for the elderly, perform services in luxury apartments, and interact with visitors at amusement parks and other similar facilities. We are very big in the real estate business but very small in the robotics business, and thus our desire to collaborate with Israel.””

Partners spend $2B in Guangzhou

In September, China and Israel established the Sino-Israeli Robotics Institute (SIRI), which will be part of a $2 billion industrial park in Guangzhou. The new deal will provide a SIRI counterpart in Israel.

The Sino-Israeli Robotics Institute is established.

The signing ceremony for the Sino-Israeli Robotics Institute.

The Israeli branch will build business contacts, find researchers, provide training, and develop robotics for the Chinese market.

The two nations are also cooperating on other research. Their science ministers this month signed an agreement in which Israel will spend $1 million, and China will spend $5 million on joint scientific studies in areas including medicine, nanotechnology, “smart cities,” and 3D printing.

Israel is home to several 3D printing companies, and the Chinese government plans to invest $313 million in additive manufacturing technology over the next three years. They hope to catch up to the U.S. and Japan, which lead in patent filings, and to make up for strained diplomatic ties with Europe.

Israel builds on robotics prowess

Although Israel has a strong robotics research community, “we don’t have a lot of opportunity to deploy that technology because our economy is too small,” said Zvi Shiller, chairman of the Israeli Robotics Association and a professor of mechanical engineering and mechatronics at Ariel University.

“China is a major opportunity for us, and manufacturers there are very motivated to take advantage of our technology,” Shiller said. “There are thousands of factories that will be interested in the technology developed at the institute. It’s like a second Industrial Revolution — and Israeli technology is at the center of it.”

In 2012, Shiller’s organization explored collaborating on robotics research with the Confederation of Indian Industry. Israel has also worked with Singapore on a startup accelerator and is a major military technology supplier to Asia.

Israel could eventually develop domestic demand for robotics in agriculture, security, the service industry, and households.

“As we advance toward 2020, there will be a robot in every house, in every car,” said Shiller. “Every farmer will have them; every hospital operation room will feature robots; every disabled person will be assisted by robots, as will every soldier in the army.”

In agriculture, Shanghai-based Bright Food Group last spring acquired Tnuva Food Industries Agricultural Co-Op in Israel Ltd.

The company has been increasing its cheese production for the Chinese market, in part through automation in its new Israeli dairy. Tnuva uses driverless forklifts and an eight-handed robot called the Octopus for packaging.

Israel exports $60 million in food products to China and imports about $180 million in goods from China, and the countries plan to increase agricultural trade volume to $450 million by 2020.