From autonomous insect zappers to android pianists and driverless ice cream trucks, machines rule the world – at least at the Chinese Asian Games.
The Games open Saturday after a one-year postponement due to COVID-19, with about 12,000 athletes and thousands of journalists, technical officials and spectators descending on Hangzhou.
The city is the unofficial home of China’s technology industry, and robots and other mind-boggling gadgets will serve, entertain and control visitors.
An automated mosquito catcher roams the sprawling Games Village, zapping the pests after luring them in by mimicking a human’s body temperature and breathing.
Robot dogs that can run, jump and fall over power supplies. Smaller versions dance while a bright yellow android plays the piano.
Driverless minibuses will transport visitors around the nearby city of Shaoxing, home to baseball and softball venues.
Athletes can test their reflexes against a table tennis table that plays “Pongbot”.
Inside the enormous media center, a ruddy plastic-and-metal receptionist with a number pad and card slots built into his torso greets customers at a makeshift bench.
Even locations were built using construction robots that organizers say are “very cute, with unique skills.”
To summarize how eager China is to promote the theme at the Games, the mascots are three humanoid robots – Congcong, Lianlian and Chenchen, whose smiling faces adorn huge signs in Hangzhou and other nearby host cities.
Dog meets ‘dog’
Hangzhou, a city of 12 million people in eastern China, has built a reputation as a home to tech startups.
This includes a booming robotics sector eager to close the gap with leading rivals in countries such as the United States and Japan.
At an industrial park, DEEP Robotics workers put some of their most advanced models to the test, directing one four-legged bot to walk through construction rubble and another onto a nearby pedestrian bridge, slick from the rain.
At one point, a real dog shows up and curiously sniffs its robotic equivalent.
Elsewhere, office workers pick up lunch from vending machines that can steam the food and, according to maker Kuaie Fresh, control the temperature so that the meal is just right.
The machine also collects data about customer preferences.
In some countries, that would raise concerns about where their personal information goes and how it will be used.
But at least one customer was impressed.
“The cooking skills are better than those of most people who can’t cook,” Hu, 29, said.
A global race to push the boundaries of artificial intelligence brought AI-enabled humanoid robots to a UN summit in July, where they claimed they could ultimately run society better than humans.
And industrial robots have sparked fears around the world that machines could make millions of jobs redundant.
“I wouldn’t say that robots will replace humans, but rather they will be a tool and help people,” Qian Xiaoyu, a director of DEEP Robotics, told AFP.
There was a temperature-taking robot to take people’s temperatures and report if they showed signs of fever.
It can also remind visitors to wear a mask.
But the gadget is likely to remain in his toolbox after China’s ruling Communist Party abruptly lifted its draconian zero-Covid policy late last year.