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Title [Martial Arts Globe] Tai Chi Robots

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Photo Caption : Nao Tai Chi (YouTube)

Tai Chi Robots 
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                By Gene Ching

When disco dancers do ‘the robot’ it is a stiff jerky dance, the antithesis of Tai Chi Chuan. The smooth graceful movements of Tai Chi seem in direct opposition with how we imagine a robot might move. Nevertheless, there’s a growing connection between Tai Chi and robotics. If a robot could be designed and programmed to perform Tai Chi, it’s a step towards a higher level of robotics. Just as Tai Chi can improve balance in humans, it might be helpful in improving walking abilities for robots. This growing field of Tai Chi robotics is challenging researchers, scientists, and engineers. 

Walking is only one of the complicated motions that humans perform. For a more sophisticated motion, Tai Chi serves as an example of complicated human actions that a robot might be programmed to perform (Wama,et.al., 2004). To showcase robotic advancements, manufacturing companies and programmers have been using Tai Chi to demonstrate their sophistication. In 2004, Sony Corp exhibited QRIO, a robot performed Tai Chiat a QRIO Technology Park event (Alamy, 2004). Another Tai Chi Robot named Nao performed at the 11th China International Equipment Manufacturing Exposition in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, PRC (Global Times2012). Nao is a 58-centimeter-tall robot developed by Aldebaran Robotics, a French company owned by Japan’s SoftBank (Takahashi, 2014). Nao is an important Tai Chi robot and will be discussed more later.

As a testament to the difficulty presented by the challenge of Tai Chi robotics, not all Tai Chi Robots succeed. During a demonstration at the University of Hong Kong in 2013, an HKU robot fell while demonstrating a short Tai Chi routine, breaking its right ankle. The 150kg, 1.9-metre-tall robot, which cost HK$15 million, was considered the most advanced humanoid robot at that time (Wee, 2013).

However, not all Tai Chi robot performances are showcased at tech conventions. In 2016, robot designer Jiao Shizhan reprogrammed two of his dancing robots to perform Tai Chi at a Tai Chi competition held at Zhoukou Normal University where he studied. The robots weighed about two kilograms and were 35 centimeters tall. For Jiao, this was an academic exercise and felt his result was ‘quite good’ (CCTV Video News Agency, 2016).

In August 2017, the Guinness World Record for the ‘Most Robots Dancing Simultaneously’ was won by 1069 robots that performed synchronized Tai Chi together. The new record was part of a publicity stunt orchestrated by WL Intelligent Technology Co, Ltd from Guangshou, Guandong Province, PRC. The previous record of 1007 dancing robots was set by a competitor, Ever Win Company & Ltd. (Uria, 2017). During the new record-setting performance, several of the robots fell and were consequently deducted from the total. 

While freestanding robots that can perform Tai Chi are impressive, there is a larger range of possibilities in this field of research. Siasun, an industrial robot manufacturer based in Shanghai, PRC, showcased its Siasun Flexible 7-axis Robot Model B, which is just a robotic arm. In an eye-catching ad campaign, Siasun pitted their Model B against a human Tai Chi master for a bout of Push Hands. Push Hands, or tuishou, is a sparring method for Tai Chi where two practitioners begin by crossing their hands in circular motions to take their partner off balance while maintaining their own center. The robotic arm was bolted to the floor so there was no way the Tai Chi master could win, but it made for a sensational ad promotion that went viral. The Siasun robotic arm also followed the master through some Tai Chi arm sequences, as well as replicating some water cup carrying drills, which are also a common practice for Tai Chi exponents (You, 2017).

[Applications for Tai Chi Robots]

The most obvious application of Tai Chi robots is as expensive toys. In 2018, Moorebot Zeus Battle Robot from Pilot Labs was offered to the public for $1600 USD. Beyond Tai Chi, it boasted a 150m/sec speed and 25Kg punch (Nichols, 2018). Currently the Moorebot Zeus Battle Robot sells for $4500 USD (Moorebot, 2022).

Other applications are truly out of this world. Remember the robotic arm? While it wasn’t the same brand, there’s a robotic arm on the Mars Rover Curiosity. MAHLI Deputy Principal Investigator Aileen Yingst of the Tucson-based Planetary Science Institute praised the complex and delicate manipulations of Curiosity’s robotic arm to Tai Chi by saying “The folks who drive the rover's arm and turret have taken a 220-pound arm through some very complex tai chi” (Prigg, 2012).

The field where Tai Chi robotics is making the most advancements is teaching. Aldebaran Robotics is exploring applications for their robot Nao in schools and universities, such as helping children with autism through interactive games and apps. Their parent company SoftBank uses a different version of the robot named Pepper, to improve the customer experience at its mobile stores in Japan (Takahashi, 2014). 

Assistant Professor Zhi Zheng at the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Kate Gleason College of Engineering uses Nao in her research which is focused on individuals with developmental disorders like those with Autism Spectrum Disorder. She is working with Tai Chi teacher and Saunders College of Business professor, Yong Tai Wang, to use the Nao robot as a facilitator teaching Tai Chi. Dubbed ‘the Tai Chi Leader,’ Zheng aspires to program the robot so that it might be easily controlled by a non-expert like a leader or social worker at a community center.  “Technology is designed to serve people,” says Zheng. “It has to fit in the community.” (Cometa, 2022; Codiva, 2022). 

Hyun Kyoung Oh, an assistant professor in the College of Nursing at University of Wisconsin Milwaukee and certified Tai Chi teacher, has expanded Zheng’s work with Nao to examine robot-led Tai Chi sessions for seniors. Tai Chi has been widely proven to have a number of health benefits and because it is practiced slowly, it is deemed safer than other exercise options for older adults (Hoover, 2020). 

Although it was originally created as a martial art, Tai Chi continues to make groundbreaking advancements in modern times. Through robotics, Tai Chi is going boldly where no martial art has gone before.


Alamy (2004) QRIO [online]. Available at: https://www.alamy.com/qrio-sony-corps-humanoid-robots-perform-tai-chi-an-ancient-chinese-martial-art-during-a-news-preview-at-the-qrio-technology-park-2004-event-in-tokyo-december-17-2004-the-public-will-be-able-to-experience-communicating-with-the-robots-and-see-various-demonstrations-at-the-two-day-event-starting-december-18-reutersyuriko-nakao-yncn-image381332491.html (Accessed: 3 February 2023).

CCTV Video News Agency (2016) University Students Develop Robots Skilled in Tai Chi [online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v4clWD62hV0 (Accessed: 3 February 2023).

Codiva, M. (2022) ‘New Tai Chi Skilled Robot is Built on Human-Centered Intelligence’, The Science Times, 03 October, Available at https://www.sciencetimes.com/articles/40276/20221003/new-tai-chi-skilled-robot-built-human-centered-intelligence.htm  (Accessed: 3 February 2023).

Cometa, M. (2022) ‘Faculty researchers develop humanoid robotic system to teach Tai Chi’, Rochester Institute of Technology, 28 September July [online]. Available at: https://www.rit.edu/news/faculty-researchers-develop-humanoid-robotic-system-teach-tai-chi (Accessed: 3 February 2023).

Global Times (2012) Humanoid robots practice Tai Chi at equipment expo [online]. Available at: https://www.globaltimes.cn/content/730531.shtml (Accessed: 3 February 2023).

Hoover, E. (2020) ‘Exercising the possibilities of robotics’, UWM Report, 21 February, July [online]. Available at: https://uwm.edu/news/exercising-the-possibilities-of-robotics (Accessed: 3 February 2023).

Moorebot (2022) Moorebot Zeus Assembled Programmable Remote Control Battle Robot. Available at: https://www.moorebot.com/products/moorebot-zeus-assembled-battle-robot  (Accessed: 3 February 2023).

Nichols, G. (2018) ‘Tabletop battle robot does tai chi, karate’, ZD Net, 17 July [online]. Available at: https://www.zdnet.com/article/tabletop-battle-robot-does-tai-chi-karate (Accessed: 3 February 2023).

Prigg, M. (2012) ‘Tai Chi on Mars: Nasa tests out Curiosity's robot arm as engineers reveal the tiny piece of New Mexico on the red planet’, Daily Mail, 11 September [online]. Available at: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2201386/Nasa-tests-Curiositys-robot-arm-engineers-reveal-tiny-piece-New-Mexico-red-planet.html?openGraphAuthor=%2Fhome%2Fsearch.html%3Fs%3D%26authornamef%3DMark%2BPrigg (Accessed: 3 February 2023).

Quigley, A. (2016) Nao Tai Chi [online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Odn9C8UzJkU  (Accessed: 4 February 2023).

Takahashi, D. (2014) ‘Meet Nao, a cute and friendly humanoid robot that can do Tai chi’, VentureBeat, 3 December Available at https://venturebeat.com/mobile/meet-nao-a-cute-and-friendly-humanoid-robot-that-can-do-tai-chi/ (Accessed: 3 February 2023).

Uria, D. (2017) ‘More than a thousand dancing robots break world record’ UPI, 18 August [online]. Available at: https://www.upi.com/Odd_News/2017/08/18/More-than-a-thousand-dancing-robots-break-world-record/4251503069547/?spt=rrs&or=4 (Accessed: 3 February 2023).

Wama, T., Higuchi, M., Sakamoto, H., and Nakatsu, R. (2004) The 14th  International Conference on Artificial Reality and Telexistence. [online]. Available at: https://rauterberg.employee.id.tue.nl/conferences/ICAT2004/SS2-1.pdf  (Accessed: 4 February 2023).

Wee, D. (2013) ‘Busting a move: HKU unveils humanoid robot - and it breaks its ankle’, South China Morning Post, 18 October [online]. Available at: https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/1333875/busting-move-hku-unveils-humanoid-robot-and-it-breaks-its-ankle (Accessed: 3 February 2023).

You, T. (2017) ‘Meet the robot that knows KUNG FU: Fascinating video shows super flexible automated arm practising Tai Chi moves with a martial arts master’, Daily Mail, 20 October [online]. Available at https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5000452/Meet-robot-knows-kung-fu.html (Accessed: 3 February 2023).