Landing a lead role in a Chinese sci-fi blockbuster was the last thing autonomous robot maker Youibot expected when it set up its exhibit at Shanghai’s World Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC) back in 2021.
The Youibot team had no way of knowing that the production team for a sequel to the sci-fi thriller The Wandering Earth, one of China’s all-time highest grossing films, was also at WAIC looking for on-screen talent,—specifically of the robotic kind. They were in search of real, working robots that would look at home in a high-tech world set 30 years in the future.
The production team took one look at Youibot’s menagerie of robots designed to automate everyday tasks, and the rest, as they say, was magic.
Founded by four PhDs at China’s Xi’an Jiaotong University in 2017, Youibot is an alum of SOSV’s HAX program and makes autonomous, mobile robots for a range of industries and workplace roles, including factory automation, logistics management, inspection and maintenance.
Once the Wandering Earth and Youibot crews started talking, they realized how much their visions overlapped. One of the robotic stars in Wandering Earth II is Youibot’s Auto Trolley series AT100, which is used today in warehouses across the world, the same role it plays in the film at the United Earth Government base. (As the film’s director Guō Fān noted, “Reality is already sci-fi enough.”) The Youibot team also found inspiration in some of the (so far) fictional uses for its robots that the screenwriters dreamed up.
The Wandering Earth series follows the efforts of the United Earth Government to propel the Earth out of the sun’s orbit before it turns into an all-consuming red giant. Wandering Earth II was released on the first day of this year’s Lunar New Year holidays, immediately claiming the #1 box office spot domestically. As of last month, the film had raked in $3 billion RMB (the first Wandering Earth film remains one of the highest grossing non-English films of all time).
You can still catch Wandering Earth II in theaters (and the first Wandering Earth on Netflix)—and keep an eye out for news about Wandering Earth III!