Ex-Robots factory in China
A Chinese company creates hyper-realistic robots that mimic emotions, sparking debate on replacing workers and the future of these machines in healthcare and education. YouTube Screenshot / The Sun

Chinese scientists are making significant progress in developing hyper-realistic humanoid robots capable of mimicking human facial expressions and emotions with uncanny accuracy. The robots' primary role: To take over tasks currently performed by humans.

One of these companies is Dalian-based robotics company Ex-Robots, who are currently developing lifelike humanoid robots to integrate them into the healthcare and education sectors.

Intriguing footage captured inside the facility revealed workers assembling intricate components, including realistic silicone heads, masks, and limbs, for what could be the world's most advanced robotic creations. Concept art for various robot designs lines the walls, while the factory floor showcases completed 'female' robots with their male counterparts.

The most fascinating aspect of the project is the engineers' effort to create robots that mirror their own movements and expressions. A video from the factory showcases this capability. An Ex-Robot worker moves her head, smiles, and sticks out her tongue, and a humanoid robot replicates these actions precisely.

Life-like Capabilities

Advanced capabilities of the robots are achieved through a combination of miniature motors strategically placed within their heads and sophisticated artificial intelligence (AI) that allows them to perceive and respond to human behaviour.

Ex-Robots CEO Li Boyang emphasised the importance of in-house software and algorithm development. While acknowledging the availability of many open-source models, he highlighted the company's focus on creating AI that can recognise and express human emotions – a key differentiator for their robots.

Li Boyang further elaborated that Ex-Robots, founded in 2009 and focusing on humanoid robots since 2016, is also developing a core AI system they call their "foundation model." "The model we're making is multi-modal and capable of emotional expression,' Li said. 'It can perceive the surrounding environment and produce appropriate facial feedback," he explained.

Ex-Robots reported that their production time for a humanoid robot was between two weeks and a month. The cost falls within the range of 1.5 million yuan (approximately £162,000) to 2 million yuan (approximately £216,000).

The Future of Humanoid Robots: Healthcare, Education, and Beyond

Currently, Ex-Robots' humanoid creations primarily serve as museum exhibits, with one such museum conveniently located within their factory complex. Li Boyang envisions a future where these robots play a more significant role in healthcare and education.

"Psychological counselling and health are certainly future application scenarios. We are currently conducting related research, such as auxiliary treatment and preliminary screening for emotional and psychological disorders," he said.

Li Boyang further emphasised the potential of emotional interaction for robots in service fields, particularly those catering to children.

Last August, Ex-Robots unveiled their humanoid robots at the World Robot Conference, China's premier robotics expo. The company showcased both their lifelike animatronic heads and complete humanoid robots.

At the conference, Li highlighted the potential of humanoid robots for public interaction roles in museums, tourist attractions, schools, and even "companion scenarios."

According to Interesting Engineering, ex-Robots is credited with creating the world's lightest humanoid robot in 2023. Their innovative approach utilises 3D scanning, digital design, and 3D printing to craft a remarkably lifelike synthetic skin.

The ethical considerations surrounding humanoid robots in the workplace and their potential social impact are intriguing. For example, some countries are exploring ways to navigate cultural norms when developing these robots. Saudi Arabia recently introduced a female humanoid named Sara, who was programmed to avoid specific topics that align with their social values.

In other news, a laboratory in Guadalajara, Mexico, is pioneering AI and robotics to automate the IVF process. This technology has already demonstrably improved fertility outcomes, with 11 women successfully achieving pregnancy.