Homemade robot lights up inventor's dream

2013-08-16 07:47:22 GMT2013-08-16 15:47:22(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

 Does creating a moving, speaking robot need special skills, advanced equipment and a huge amount of cash? A Chinese farmer says all you need is a pile of scraps and a creative mind.

Standing in a cramped rental room in Beijing, the 2-meter-tall humanoid is the latest work of amateur inventor Tao Xiangli, following his feat of diving in his homemade submarine in 2009.

With the help of sensors and remote controls, the robot can perform simple movements with its head and limbs, including walking, shaking hands and mimicking human voices.

But the real surprise about the robot is that its creator is a primary school graduate who received no mechanical training or instructions while assembling the robot.

The 39-year-old from the eastern province of Anhui said the robot took about one year to build.

"Many components are daily objects I bought in a second-hand market," Tao said, pointing to the robot's helmet remolded from a kettle, its chest made of tea tin lids and ice skate blades as its arms. The most expensive object, according to Tao, is a video screen on the robot's chest that cost him hundreds of yuan (dozens of U.S. dollars).


Born into a farmer's family, Tao became a migrant worker at the age of 14 and worked at construction sites, restaurants and karaoke lounges before realizing his passion for inventing.

He became known in 2009, when he dived in a Beijing lake inside a submarine he put together using gasoline barrels and other pieces of scrap.

However, being an inventor is not easy for a Chinese farmer.

"My family want me to find a stable and profitable job like a chef or a truck driver. They think what I'm doing is just fooling around," Tao said.

Determined to stick to his path, Tao quit his karaoke job in 2010 and spent all his savings on inventing things. To save money, he lives in a 16-square-meter room in Beijing alone, after his wife returned home to run a store to feed their family.

So far, Tao has seven patents in China, but not one has been sold.

"No company wishes to buy them. They say buying the patent is not worth the money as their competitors can easily copy the devices after they are produced," Tao said.

Apart from insufficient protection on intellectual property in China, Tao is also upset that his poor educational background and low status have made it hard for him to get support from the government.

The robot was therefore meant to be an impressive "resume," which Tao hoped would attract investment for his other designs.

"I hope some entrepreneurs will notice me and are willing to invest. I'm almost 40 with a family to feed. I can't live in a rental room for the rest of my life," he said.

Tao said his next plan was to build a robot that can operate underwater but he was unsure whether he could get enough cash to get the project started.

"If I run short of money, I may have to sell this guy," Tao said, patting the robot. "But I hope when we meet again, I will be rich and successful and can afford to buy him back."

(Tan Yixiao and Xu Chang have contributed to the story.)

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