After finishing his homework following a full day of school, 17-year-old Haocheng Yang would head over to meet the rest of his student robotics team and mentor, Xuguo He, to design and build robot prototypes until the early hours of the morning.
“Every day, Mr He would work with us on robotics and his wife would call him and ask where he was at 2am. Well, everyone in China works a night shift,” laughs Yang, who has dedicated his summer holidays to a program in Cornell University, “I would say he is the best robotics mentor in the whole of China.”
A long-time mentor to Team China, He leads a young robotics team in Beijing – comprising Qiwun Wu, Xucheng Wang, Sanyang Liu, Yifei Li and Yang – who are representing the country at the third edition of the FIRST Global Challenge 2019 in Dubai. The esteemed competition convenes five-member student teams from over 191 countries, where they are evaluated for their utilization of robots to clear up micro- and macro-pollutants in the ocean, and deposit these to any of the three levels of the processing barge.
According to Team China, their robot was differentiated from others in the competition because it imitates the movement of a human hand and even has a wrist-like component to deposit the ‘pollutants’, which for purposes of the simulation, are actually orange foam balls.
According to the International Federation of Robotics, China is the largest robot market in the world, from the perspectives of annual sales and operational stock, and it is a rapidly expanding industry. The Chinese government is also encouraging the use and education of robotics to upgrade the country’s manufacturing industry, with the goal of producing 100,000 locally-made industrial robots annually by 2020 – that is a robot density of 150 for every 10,000 employees.
As the unofficial spokesperson of Team China, Yang shared that his team was passionate about finding technological solutions to everyday problems. Among its noteworthy achievements, the team has developed an artificial intelligence-based solution to crowded cafeterias in their schools, through leveraging a system of cameras and algorithms that direct students to the fastest moving queues.
“We believe that there are a variety of problems, especially in urban societies, that can benefit from robotic technology,” says Yang, who dreams of going to the US to study and becoming a mechanical engineer. “It’s just about understanding the issue and designing a solution.”