Scenes from China’s quest to dominate the robotic future: At startup E-Deodar, a human-looking droid serves coffee to employees who are building $15,000 industrial bots that are about a third cheaper than foreign brands and are being used to automate assembly lines across the Pearl River Delta manufacturing hub.
Some 1,900 kilometers (1,200 miles) to the north, inside a lab at Beijing-based e-commerce giant Inc., a spider-like robot plunges down from its frame, seizes a book on a conveyor belt with its suctioned claws and hurls it into a crate. The machine can sort 3,600 objects an hour, four times as many as a person — just one piece of the robotic technology the company’s developing to automate warehouses.
China is embracing robotics with the same full-on intensity that’s made it a force in high-speed rail and renewable energy. Beijing economic planners view it as a stepping stone to a broader …