China rolls out bots to enforce ‘temporary closed-off management’ of Shanghai

Drones, delivery-bots and robo-sprayers at work in locked-down megacity


State-controlled media in China is proudly reporting the use of robots to facilitate the “temporary closed-off management” of Shanghai, which has experienced a new surge of COVID.

The city of 26 million plus residents has been locked down as cases reportedly surge past the 13,000 mark each day, a new high for the city and a level of infection that China will not tolerate under its zero COVID policy. City authorities have quickly created 47,000 temporary hospital beds and increased capacity to four million tests each day. All residents have been required to take a test.

Robots are helping to enforce the lockdown. Police have employed “drones equipped with a broadcasting system to patrol key areas.” The craft “publicize latest news and anti-pandemic prevention and control measures to the local communities." Which looks and sounds like this.

Friendlier drones are carrying medicines to residents who are unable to leave their homes or visit doctors.

Food delivery has been turned over to rolling drones loaded by staff wearing full personal protective equipment. State media proudly points out that the rolling drones can carry between three and four times as much cargo as a single human delivery driver.

A "first batch" of 28 robots are also rolling around the aisles of Shanghai’s temporary hospitals, spraying disinfectant as they go. Some of those hospitals are occupying exhibition centers, which are understandably empty at the moment.

While robots are at work enforcing Shanghai’s lockdown, our mechanical friends are idle in the city’s factories.

Shanghai is not as important a tech industry hub as nearby Shenzhen, where recent lockdowns led to fears of more, and very unwelcome, disruptions to global tech supply chains. Happily, Shenzhen’s lockdowns lifted quickly.

But Shanghai is a major hub for auto manufacturing and other industries, and its port is colossal. The city appears to be in strife as it has never previously experienced infection rates to match Tuesday’s 13,000-plus cases. China’s response has been to mobilize resources on a scale not seen since the early 2020 effort to crush the first wave of infections in Wuhan.

It could be weeks before life in the city returns to something approaching normal. But whatever that new normal looks like, bots will be a big part of it: Alibaba recently celebrated its millionth delivery by rolling bot and has pledged to vastly increase the size of its fleet. Other Chinese e-commerce and delivery companies have done likewise. ®

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