Gadgets

2019 Taobao Maker Festival | Drones of the sea, robotic bartenders and exoskeleton technology

Lit up signage at the Taobao Maker Festival

Lit up signage at the Taobao Maker Festival   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

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The Taobao Maker Festival is organised every year by the Alibaba Group in Hangzhou, China, and features the latest in Next-Gen development

If you get lost at the Taobao Maker Festival — which you might, considering it is held at the Hangzhou Boiler Factory in Hangzhou, spread across six grounds, featuring over 1,000 products — look for the black tree. Paper-thin foldable screens fluttering from its branches, the tree marks the beginning of the Tech zone.

If you’re curious…
  • The Taobao Maker Festival this year kicked off on September 12. The event spans two weeks and is staged at two venues in Alibaba’s nesting grounds: the Hangzhou Boiler Factory and the West Lake.

The festival, organised annually by the Alibaba Group to encourage innovators and shift from a ‘made in China’ tag to ‘designed in China’, has six zones: Technology, Chinese culture, Gen-Z trends, Design, Food and Creativity. “Every year, the Tech zone has always got the most attention. The passion for innovation here is strong, especially in the younger generation,” says Chris Tung, Chief Marketing Officer, Alibaba.

Each zone differs in its design as well as background music — technology is awash in a futuristic blue, with robots, Artificial Intelligence and wearables (watch out for 3D printed sneakers and colour-changing shirts) getting the lion’s share of the pie. Here are five innovations that stood out at the Taobao Maker Festival.

Underwater exploration

Swimming with sharks can be fun, if done at Robosea’s exhibition. The underwater robotics company displayed products such as the Robo-shark, BIKI, and the Sea-flyer. As one of the team members, clad in a bathing suit, enters the makeshift pool holding the robot shark, the crew explains, “This is an underwater robot which can be customised for research purposes, like monitoring the water quality and ocean engineering. It can identify a target and move towards it. It could be paired up with other devices such as a mechanical arm, for greater functionality.”

Robosea’s Robo-shark

Robosea’s Robo-shark   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

The Robo-shark’s motion is bionic — it moves by imitating the three-joint tail fin movements instead of using a propeller. This increases speed and reduces noise. Its shell is also made out of sound-absorbing material for easier disguise.

The diver swimming with this shark is accompanied by the BIKI robot fish, which we are told, “is like an underwater drone for the sea.” It can take pictures underwater, move 360 degrees, and avoid obstacles.

The true Iron Man

Wangchao dropped out of university to start C-Exoskeleton Technology — all because of his fascination with bringing Tony Stark’s Iron Man to life. At the Taobao Maker Festival, he displays the result of this passion: a body suit that helps him lift a 1.2-tonne car through pneumatics.

“I built this exoskeleton to help with logistics, mainly for people working in warehouses. They repeat similar movements again and again, so the exoskeleton will help reduce injuries,” says Wangchao.

Wangchao’s C-Exoskeleton Technology

Wangchao’s C-Exoskeleton Technology   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

Wearing the exoskeleton like a backpack, he straps on the gloves attached by an elastic cord, and begins to hoist a barbell, after explaining, “The back contains the energy section of the equipment, and it pulls the gloves towards itself, reducing human effort.”

But why exoskeletons, when machines can do the same work? “In China, manpower is cheap. So we have a lot of workers. An exoskeleton would be the middle-ground option to increase efficiency while keeping costs low,” he says. A self-proclaimed fan of Elon Musk, he adds that the exoskeleton was a small part in his long-term goal to improve human efficiency.

The future is foldable

There is a lot of buzz about Samsung Galaxy Fold, set to be relaunched later this year. However, Royole got there first last year with FlexiPai, the first foldable phone. Despite opening up to middling reviews by the tech community, there’s something to be said about Royole’s work in thin, flexible and wearable screens.

Royole’s FlexiPai

Royole’s FlexiPai   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

Here at the festival, the company has put up, along with other displays, a tree with wearable screens hanging down its branches. These screens can be worn on a shirt, or hats, or added on to bags and other accessories. “They can be worn by dancers and performers, or they can be used in advertising and PR,” says Tiffany Lyu, Senior Business Development Manager at Royole.

A dog’s journey

Yobotics’ robot pet puppy

Yobotics’ robot pet puppy   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

The robotic pet section by Yobotics has adults turned into cooing children, scratching plastic ears and booping glass noses.

The goodest-boy on display today has inquisitive round eyes, circled in green, a wagging tail and a propensity for scratches. “The dog is connected to a mobile programme on your mobile screen. It captures images through a camera on its nose,” informs a Yobotics team member operating the dogs. It responds to sounds and moves in their direction as well, cocking its head and sitting when required. The dog is being launched next year, and is targeted at families, especially children and senior citizens. “We have left some of the customisation open to customers. Children can learn how to programme the robot’s functions via some easy codes,” he says.

Technical tipple

Walking for hours exploring the festival is enough to make one thirsty. Lucky for us, Yangzhou Zhiying’s Super Mix robot has turned bartender for the day.

You need to order what you want on a connected app, and leave the rest to the robot — a giant three-jointed mechanical arm with two grippers and a third extension at its end.

Yangzhou Zhiying’s Super Mix robot

Yangzhou Zhiying’s Super Mix robot   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

The robot picks up a steel jar, washes it and places it under a dripper to collect the alcohol and mixers. The third extension acts as the jar’s lid, snapping it shut to begin the crux of the job — the mixing. Swaying maniacally, through different degrees of freedom, it concocts the mixture before slowing down to pour the drink out in a glass.

But wait, the job isn’t done yet: it goes back to wash the jar and put it back in its place. (Ex-roommates, take a hint.)

(The writer was in Hangzhou, China at the invitation of Alibaba Group)

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2020 1:27:59 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/technology/gadgets/alibaba-taobao-maker-festival-2019-hangzhou-china/article29438487.ece

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