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Why the U.S. Infrastructure Bill Must Respond to China’s Investment in High-Tech Manufacturing and Robotics

The U.S. faces the possibility of being eclipsed by China's investments in robotics and high-tech manufacturing.

The latest bipartisan infrastructure bill being debated in Congress is a necessary response to the competitive threat posed by China. China is poised to dominate the industrial robotics market of the future, due to its national plan for technological supremacy and the billions of dollars its government has invested in critical technologies, compared with the U.S.’s focus on private-sector development. 

The “Made in China 2025” plan started as a 10-year vision of shifting China from a low-end manufacturer to a high-end producer of goods, with the intent of making China dominant in global high-tech manufacturing.

This requires Beijing to transition the country’s existing manufacturing infrastructure and labor market toward research and development, technological innovation, and specialized production. The overarching goal of the Made in China 2025 vision is to become the global leader in both producing and using electric cars, new-energy vehicles, next-generation information technology (IT), telecommunications, advanced robotics, and artificial intelligence.

These sectors are the pillars of what is now the fourth industrial revolution, referring to big data, cloud computing, and other emerging technologies into global manufacturing supply chains. China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is working to revive the ancient Silk Road and ignite and unify trade with a robust infrastructure including road, rail, and pipeline connecting China, Central Asia, West Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.

The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) recently released the 2021 update of its “World Robotics R&D Programs” report. The IFR referenced the Made in China 2025 blueprint in key special projects of “intelligent robots” being deployed in accordance with the requirements of the “Innovation Chain.” The focus is on basic cutting-edge technologies and key common technologies for next-generation, industrial, service, and special robots.

China wants to cultivate at least three leading enterprises with international competitiveness and create more than five clusters of robot-supporting industries. China budgeted $577 million (U.S.) for 2019 alone in robotic development. Continual growth in the industrial scale has an annual yield of self-branded industrial robots reaching 100,000 units, and industrial robots with six or more axes topped 50,000 in a year. Annual revenues for service robots exceeded $4.3 billion.

In comparison, the IFR coverage of the U.S. robotics industry reported a budget of $32 million for 2020 in the National Robotics Initiative 2.0 (NRI-2.0): Ubiquitous Collaborative Robot — a ludicrous amount compared with China’s staggering capital investment.

China and U.S. robotics

The Chinese government has been reaching out to many Silicon Valley technology companies to encourage them to set up shop in China, offering lavish financial support and generous incentives. RIOS was among the companies that were offered deals to expand in China but received no such offer from our own government.

RIOS remains patriotic and did not take the deal from China. Today, we’re proud, as Americans, that the U.S. Senate is passing a huge industrial policy bill to counter the threat from China. Both parties are agreeing to invest in semiconductor manufacturing, AI research, robotics, and quantum computing, as well as a range of other technologies.

What makes this bill unusual is the amount of bipartisan support and the uniting of political parties which highlights and counteracts the urgent threats in both commercial and military competition. The senate overwhelmingly passed legislation by 68–32 vote that would pour nearly a quarter-trillion dollars over the next five years into scientific R&D to bolster industrial and technological competitiveness against China.

The new Senate bill is on a course to make a paradigm shift for the U.S. technology industry, and it would massively augment the development of the robotics and AI fields, as well as a broad range of critical technologies.

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