China Expands Influence Through Hospital Robots, AI Phones

Credit: Kārlis Dambrāns via Flickr.

March 02, 2018      

This week, a Chinese company demonstrated artificial intelligence in a smartphone that could also power self-driving vehicles. Chinese influence could also be seen in some new hospital robots that can deliver medicine and files, as well as entertain children. In addition, let’s look at how Japanese government investments in AI are significantly less than those in the U.S. and China.

Robotics Business Review has partnered with Abishur Prakash at Center for Innovating the Future to provide its members with cutting-edge insights into recent developments in global automation, AI, and unmanned systems. Are you ready to be updated?

China shows off new self-driving car tech

Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies Co. displayed a new self-driving solution at Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2018 in Barcelona, Spain. With a Huawei Mate 10 smartphone connected to a Porsche, passengers could enter the vehicle, and the phone would decide how to navigate a street and at what speeds.

The phone could even take input from passengers. The connected Mate 10 did this through neural networking, acting as the brain for the car. Other devices, such as video cameras on the roof and robots to handle gasoline, gave the phone additional data or executed tasks.

As geopolitical competition between the U.S. and China grows, AI is becoming a core focus. But the ways in which nations grow their AI power is changing, and this can be seen in Huawei’s latest offering. If Chinese technology can enable self-driving experiences, it will set China apart from the U.S. and other countries. Would you purchase an AI-enabled phone from China over the U.S., if it could make your vehicle self-driving?

Hospital robots deliver pills in Thailand

A Bangkok hospital is now using several robots to deliver pills, patient files, and more. Manufactured by a Chinese firm, the hospital robots can speak Mandarin and Thai. Their presence also helps entertain children at the medical facility.

This isn’t the first hospital in Bangkok to use robots. In 2017, the Siriraj Hospital began using robots to help with certain tasks.

The Thai hospital robots are noteworthy for several reasons. First, they show that countries of varying economic levels can benefit from developing and using automation.

Second, jobs that would have gone to humans — such as giving pills to patients or handling medical files — are now going to robots.

Third, Thailand is using Chinese hospital robots, not German, Danish, or Japanese devices. China is already growing its economic influence in Southeast Asia through robotics. In Thailand and other countries in the region, Chinese hospital robots could further expand this influence.

By the time non-Chinese firms try to enter Thailand, Chinese robots may dominate that market. What will be the strategy of robotics firms then?

Japan’s AI budget significantly less than U.S., China

Japanese media is reporting that Japan’s budget for AI (for 2018) is not even 20% of what the U.S. and China plan to spend. This year, Japan’s government has earmarked $720 million for AI investments, compared with $4.68 billion in the U.S. and $4.212 billion in China. This raises concerns that Japan isn’t taking its AI investments seriously enough, especially as AI defines the future of economies.


While Japan’s AI investments may not match the U.S. and China, this is not necessarily a reason for concern. Tokyo’s investments are incredibly strategic, such as helping aging farmers automate agriculture tasks or using AI to record government meetings in parliament. Instead of spending across the board, Japan is very careful in picking where it invests.

At the same time, vendors such as FANUC continue to extend Japan’s robot power into the far corners of the world, regardless of what Japan’s government does.

The challenge for Japan isn’t to equal AI investments of other countries, but to ensure Japanese firms can remain competitive in a world where every major government is investing in the same area.