Dec 5 2008

Rural Inventor Wu Yulu

On the outskirts of Beijing, in a small village of red-bricked farms flanked by rows of fields, lives an unlikely inventor. Wu Yulu, a 41-year-old repairman, builds robots of his own designs, using nothing but scrap and a fifth-grade education. He spends more than two-thirds of his monthly 1,000-rmb salary on an obsession that keeps him up at night and has plunged his family into debt.

Such single-minded dedication to invention is rare, and rarer still in China’s farming communities, where life usually centers around the family and the harvest. And though he has never sold a single robot, Wu won’t stop. He’s been building robots for years, he said, starting with nothing but a compulsion to see how things worked.

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“When I was 11, one day I was sitting on the doorstep, and while watching villagers passing by I suddenly came up with the idea of building a machine that walks like a man,” he told the Beijing Times.

His first robot took several years to build and could only shuffle along in small steps as it could not raise its legs.

But his designs became more and more sophisticated, and he has built robots capable of climbing walls, serving water, lighting cigarettes, playing musical instruments and writing calligraphy.

Wu, who lives near Beijing, sees all the robots as his sons, and names them according to the order in which they were invented, from Wu No.1 through to Wu No.26.

“They are all my sons, so they must bear my surname,” he said.

Out of all of his mechanical ‘sons’, Wu says he loves Wu No.25, a robot which can pull a rickshaw, the best.

Each day, Wu No.25 pulls his inventor around the local area. It can walk for up to six hours on one battery charge.

Wu says he has to sell off some of his robot collection after plunging his family into debt by spending up to two-thirds of his monthly income on his obsession.

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