Understanding the new five-year development plan for the robotics industry in China

After years of development, China has become an important player in the global robotics industry. On December 28, 2021, China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the National Development and Reform Commission, the Ministry of Science and Technology together with other 12 departments jointly issued "The five-year development plan for the robotics industry in the 14th Five-year" (hereinafter referred to as " The Plan"). This is the second five-year development plan for the robotics industry in China (The first five year plan for the robotics industry (2016-2020) was released in June, 2016), and it plays an important role in guiding and promoting the high-quality development of China's robotics industry during the 14th Five -Year period.

Robotics research started in the early 1970s in China. However, since China was in early stages of industrialization, with an immature market, robot adoption was slow. With the rapid development of China's economy, in the 21st century, especially since 2010, China's robot industry has entered into a period of rapid development driven by market demand and government policies. In 2013 China became the world's largest industrial robot market. Recent years have seen a new era of technological revolution and industrial transformation and the deep integration of robotics with next-generation information technology, biotechnology, new energy and new materials, leading to unprecedented development opportunities for the robotics industry. The Plan stipulates that during the "14th Five-Year" period, the industry should focus on high-end and intelligent development, centering on five main tasks that give clear direction for the development of China’s robot industry:

  • Improve innovation capabilities: For example, strengthen core technology research, make breakthroughs in common technologies such as robot system development and operating systems, develop cutting-edge technologies such as bionic perception and cognition and biomechanical integration, and promote the integration and application of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, 5G, big data, and cloud computing with robotics
  • Build a solid foundation for industrial development: For example, address existing shortcomings in areas such as special materials and core components, develop robot control software and core algorithms, and establish a national robot standardization organization to accelerate the research, formulation and application of urgently needed standards
  • Increase the supply of high-end products focused on specific industry sectors
  • Expand the depth and breadth of applications through various measures bringing supply chain actors together as well as through standards and certification
  • Optimize the overall structure of the robotics industry, for example by: Cultivating leading, high-quality companies, supporting the development of a new group of specialized ‘little giant’ companies and promoting collaboration between companies in the various tiers of the supply chain.

Robots already play an important role in industry and society – for example as a platform for emerging technology and as a cornerstone of modern industry, driving the digital development and intelligent upgrading of industry, but also as a vital tool to deal with population aging and generally improve people's quality of life. People have increasingly high expectations of robots that are more intelligent, easier to use and safer. In response, the Plan proposes a focus on the innovation and application of the following types of robots: welding, vacuum (cleaning), explosives production, logistics, agriculture, mining, construction, healthcare, elderly care and disability assistance, security, epidemic prevention, household robots, public service robots, underwater robots, collaborative robots, mobile robots, and robots able to work in dangerous environments.

China has been the world's largest market for industrial robots for eight consecutive years, and robot density in manufacturing industries reached 246 robots per 10,000 employees in 2020. Industrial robots are used in 52 ‘major’ industry sectors such as automobile, electronics, metallurgy, lighting industry, petrochemical and healthcare, and 143 ‘medium’ sectors (according to the UN’s classification, China's manufacturing industry covers 41 major categories and 207 medium categories.) Service robots are already deployed in wide sectors such as warehousing and logistics, education and entertainment, cleaning services and healthcare. However, deployment is still not keeping up with economic and social development and people's expectation of a better life. Expanding the depth and breadth of robot applications in China in the next five years is therefore a priority for the robotics industry in China. The Plan specifies an application-focused approach to guide and accelerate the updating and upgrading of robot technologies, and promote the high-quality development of the robotics industry in China.

Executing The Plan will not only support the sustainable and healthy development of robot industry in China, it will also drive progress in robotic technology and industrial automation globally.


Direct link to the full text (in Chinese language).

Image © RISONG

About the author

Xiaogang Song

IFR Executive Board Member for Asia

Executive Director & Secretary General
China Robot Industry Alliance

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