Are 5G-Powered Cloud Robots the Future of Work? For One Chinese Company, They Are

December 4, 2019, 2:00 PM UTC

Robotics, artificial intelligence, 5G, and cloud computing are some of the buzziest words in tech today. One Chinese company is combining them all and pitching a “new business of 5G cloud robot,” said Robert Zhang, co-founder and president of cloud-based robotics firm CloudMinds.

CloudMinds, which has backing from SoftBank and Foxconn and major offices in China and Silicon Valley, produces robots powered by deep learning-based A.I. technology and interconnected by a cloud network system that allows for real-time data collection and sharing.

The category of cloud robots encompasses smart vending machines, autonomous neighborhood patrol vehicles, and humanoid service robots that can grasp objects with their hands.

The cloud robotics system relies on 4G and 5G network coverage, and Zhang, speaking at the Infinity Ventures Summit in Bangkok on Tuesday—Fortune is a sponsor of this year’s summit—said he wants to move the robots entirely onto 5G coverage as soon as possible.

“5G is the growth engine for cloud robots,” Zhang said, adding that the cloud robot market could reach $100 billion in 2023.

“The long-term goal for cloud robots to achieve is really to handle the jobs [humans don’t wan’t to do] so that robots can free people from these jobs,” Zhang said. Zhang defines a service robot as “a machine that can replace the role of a human being in some area, and cut cost at least by half.”

“This is really the future,” he said.

Zhang’s pitch comes at a time rife with concerns—from economic analysis firms to U.S. presidential candidate Andrew Yang—that robots will replace humans in a whole array of jobs and leave people out of work. Oxford Economics estimates that robots will replace up to 20 million factory jobs by 2030.

But Zhang said robots represent an “evolution” in jobs—they will do the repetitive, dangerous, or difficult work that humans can’t or would rather not do, and open up new careers like robot operators and trainers—though that will require policymakers and business leaders to step in and make sure replaced workers are able to transition to the new jobs, the Oxford Economics analysis cautions.

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