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May 24, 2010

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Peasant robot maker takes on Expo

CARRYING 18 hand-made robots, Wu Yulu, a rural farmer also known as China's "robot daddy," received much applause during his visit to Shanghai and the World Expo.

But the 48-year-old from Beijing was a little disappointed with the Expo, saying there weren't as many high-tech displays as he thought there would be, but he has been inspired by the city's smoking ban in public places to make a robot persuading people to stay away from cigarettes.

Wu started making robots out of pure interest in 1986. Now, the farmer who dropped out of school at the third year of elementary school has created about 45 robots, which can carry out functions including washing dishes, giving massages and writing.

Wu's robots that can perform calligraphy and bungee-jump, pull a rickshaw and catch mice attracted many visitors to the Shanghai Bund Art Museum, where his exhibition ended earlier this month.

"It's better to look at my robots than visit the Expo," Wu said visitors told him, adding that his robots are funnier compared to those with fancy looks.

Even "robot daddy" admitted his robots, which are often made of scrap metal, are not at the same level as those produced by corporations, but "I am only a farmer with poor education, and my robots are environmentally friendly."

He said all the materials he used have come from recycling stations, and "both my robots and the ones displayed at the Expo have their own advantages."

Wu told Shanghai Daily his latest idea was inspired by the city's smoking bans in public areas.

He described a robot that can light a cigarette and after inhaling open a door on his body showing a lung contaminated by long periods of smoking along with slogan such as "Smoking is harmful to your health."

Wu has another nine robot ideas, such as one capable of massaging every inch of your back.

A self-taught electrician, Wu's other inspiration is animals: he observes the way they walk and jump, and imitated those moves with his robots.

Although Wu's robots are quite simple and crude, they can all be operated by a remote control to complete designated tasks.

The robot enthusiast said at the beginning nobody in his rural village understood or supported him, but "I made much more money than from farming."

And Wu is not alone now. His son, a university sophomore, has joined his robot career. "We two are aiming at high-intelligent robots in the future," said Wu.


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