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Conference opens in Beijing as China embraces robotics revolution

They can help with the housework and even kick around a football, but robots aren't coming for your jobs just yet.

That was the reassurance from robot experts gathered at an international conference that kicked off in Beijing on Monday. The three-day event includes a forum, an exhibition and a robot contest for youth.

Decades after the first working robot was invented in 1961, "we are now in a new era of robotics," said Arturo Baroncelli, president of the International Federation of Robotics (IFR).

According to Baroncelli's estimation, some 1.5 million robots are in use in factories worldwide, with the total number poised to reach 2.3 million in the next three years.

Most robots are designed for replacing workers in especially hard conditions and won't reduce job opportunities or threaten employment for people, according to Xu Xiaolan, vice president of the Chinese Institute of Electronics.

In a congratulatory letter, Chinese President Xi Jinping said China is willing to cooperate with other nations in promoting robotics research and development.

Premier Li Keqiang said the conference is important for promoting robot technology as China promotes innovation-driven development and entrepreneurship to transform the country from the "world's factory" to a technological powerhouse.

"The conference will spur the growth of the emerging robot industry and create the world's largest robot market," Li said.

As the supply of cheap labor dries up, Chinese manufacturers are gradually replacing manual labor with robots.

According to IFR, a total of 57,000 industrial robots were sold in China last year, a year-on-year increase of 55 percent, and a quarter of global sales.

But China still has a far lower ratio of robots to workers than other major economies -- just 36 per 10,000 manufacturing workers, versus 478 in the Republic of Korea, 315 in Japan, 292 in Germany and 164 in the United States.

The conference has drawn more than 100 experts, 12 international robotics organizations and over 120 robotics companies. The event was organized by the China Association for Science and Technology and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).

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