Qining Wang (Peking University, China)
The recent big rush of the robot industry in China has attracted increasing interests from both researchers and companies, since the positive comments by Chinese President, Mr. Jinping Xi. Now, all over China, there are more than 40 industrial parks and nearly 1000 companies having businesses on robots.
Both central government and local governments value every opportunity to improve the robot industry. Robotics research budgets from National Nature Science Foundation of China (NSFC), Ministry of Science and Technology and local governments have doubled and redoubled. Commercial markets and investors are also very interested in robotics. There are more than 20 public companies in Shanghai Stock Exchange and Shenzhen Stock Exchange having business on robots. The number is growing very rapidly.
As the main aspects of wearable robots, similar to other countries, robotic prostheses and exoskeletons are more and more popular in China. Different from US and Europe, in China, government regulations on commercialized robotic prostheses and exoskeletons are independent. Prostheses in China are not classified as medical devices. The China Disabled Persons’ Federation (CDPF) and Ministry of Civil Affairs have taken charge of the registration compliance and quality control. On the contrary, exoskeletons are treated as medical devices with special registrations. China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) controls exoskeleton products’ registrations.
Research on wearable robots are popular in China. For upper-limb prostheses, Shanghai Institute of Physiology, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), started surface Electromyography (sEMG) based hand prosthesis in 1970. Then Tsinghua University, Southeast University, Harbin Institute of Technology, Shanghai Jiaotong University and Huazhong University of Science and Technology contributed several striking studies in this area. For lower-limb prostheses, Tsinghua University presented Electrorheological fluids controlled knee joint in the late 1990s. Central South University and Northeast University also carried out studies on intelligent knee joints. Peking University proposed several types of transtibial prostheses in recent 10 years. In general, most of the prosthesis studies in China still stay as prototypes in labs. Shanghai Kesheng prostheses CO., Ltd transfers the upper-limb prosthesis prototypes from Shanghai Institute of Physiology, CAS into the market. Beijing SpeedSmart CO., Ltd commercialized the robotic transtibial prosthesis from Peking University.
Wearable robots for gait assistance and rehabilitation attract various researchers in China. For lower-extremity exoskeletons, more than 15 universities and research institutes have their own prototypes for gait assistance. However, all of them remain as lab prototypes. For platform-based rehabilitation exoskeletons, Jiangsu Qianjing Rehabilitation CO., Ltd released a lower-limb exoskeletons based rehabilitation platform which is similar to the Locomat system.
Great opportunities exist in China both for research and investment. In China, there are over 2 million upper- and lower-extremity amputees. More than 2.5 million of new stroke case occur each year. Furthermore, China is facing challenges since the ageing of population. According to recent national statistics, there will be 200 million old people in 2016. Such great demands will give a golden decade for wearable robots in China. Catch it or you’ll miss it.