News of the month

2024/06 Mass production of humanoid robots has started in Dalian In its “Guiding Opinions on the Innovation and Development of Humanoid Robots,” the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology MIIT  stated: “Humanoid robots will be a disruptive innovation product following computers, smartphones, and new energy vehicles, and are expected to significantly change the production and lifestyle of humans.” The humanoid robot “Xiao Qi” was developed by Ex-Robots, a company in Dalian. It can answer questions posed by humans, but it can also change the shape of its mouth, facial expressions, and body movements based on the content of the conversation. Mass production of Xiao Qi has started in May 2024, with a goal of 500 units this year. The main clients are listed companies with chain stores and exhibition halls where Xiao Qi is currently mainly handling reception duties. Humanoid robots are rapidly becoming popular in various scenes, which can be attributed to the dramatic development of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and large-scale language models. According to the Humanoid Robot Industry Research Report, China’s humanoid robots have entered the smart stage, equipped with advanced technologies such as AI, machine learning, and computer vision. According to Jiao Jichao, vice president of humanoid robot developer UBTECH Robotics, robots’ understanding has been greatly improved. Robots can interact with humans more naturally and do not need complex operations. Robots can now accurately carry out their tasks based on their own understanding and reasoning. According to Li Boyang of Ex-Robots, a large number of humanoid robot application projects will emerge in the next two years, and the demand for small-scale mass production will peak in the next five years or so. Applications for the business market will appear first, and it will take at least 10 years for mass application in the consumer market. Once humanoid robots become widespread in ordinary households, the market demand will be extremely large, and will be greater than the automobile market. Once robots become an important hardware device in the home, the price should be comparable to that of new energy vehicles. Currently, the price of Ex-Robots’ mass-produced humanoid robots is around 700,000 to 800,000 ¥ (90,000 to 100,000 €). If it is custom-made, it will cost about 1.5 million to 2 million ¥ (200,000 – 250,000 €).

2024/05 A six-legged guide robot for the visually impaired Professor Gao Feng from the School of Mechanical Engineering, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, has developed a six-legged guide robot for visually. According to the China Association of Persons with Visual Disabilities, there are about 17.31 million visually impaired people in China. However, due to high breeding costs and long training periods, there are reportedly only over 400 guide dogs in service nationwide, which means only one guide dog is available for every 40,000 visually impaired individuals. The guide robot can accurately recognize the speech of blind people and respond in less than one second, walking at a maximum speed of three meters per second while maintaining a stable walking state with little noise. The robot has visual environmental perception capabilities, allowing it to autonomously navigate to its destination, dynamically avoid obstacles, and recognize traffic lights. Moreover, with the support of the internet, it can also serve as a home companion and an emergency responder for blind people. To achieve these goals, the robot adopts a multisensory perception system of “seeing, hearing, asking and touching.” It combines natural language comprehension and speech recognition with force-feedback canes to enable the users to control the robot. This robot also uses advanced machine learning algorithms, enabling it to automatically avoid static and dynamic obstacles with a high degree of stability and safety. In addition, it is equipped with multiple sensors such as laser radar to improve the accuracy of perception in complex environments. This means it can walk smoothly on different types of terrain and guide the blind both indoors and outdoors with no need of internet, making it easier to use, more stable, and more reliable for blind individuals.

2024/03 This is what Emperor Wu Di (543 – 578 CE) might have looked like: SNP analysis of ancient DNA A team from Fudan University and the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology have jointly reconstructed the facial appearance of Emperor Yu Wenyi (Wu Di) of the Northern Zhou Dynasty. According to historical records, Wu Di (543-578) unified northern China, but died young without fulfilling his ambition to pacify the Turks and secure the Jiangnan region. After his death, he was buried together with Empress Wude (Ashina) in the Xiaoling Mausoleum in Xianyang, Shaanxi Province. Between 1994 and 1995, the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeological Research and the Xianyang Municipal Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology conducted an emergency excavation of the Xiaoling Mausoleum and discovered the skull, limb bones, and the seal of Empress Dowager Tianyuan of Yiwenxuan, revealing the identity of this emperor. The team then used ancient DNA to reconstruct the face of the emperor. It was possible to recover more than one million single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in this DNA. There are more than 600 million SNPs in populations around the world. The team found SNPs that contained information about Emperor Wu’s hair and skin color. The team then used open-source Blender software to reconstruct his face as a 3D rendering. The program is based on soft-tissue depth averaging for modern Chinese people. In addition, they used the HIrisPlex-S system, which applies 41 SNPs to predict externally visible human features. The results suggest that emperor Wu Di had brown eyes, black hair and dark to medium skin. His facial features were similar to those of people in parts of North and East Asia today. In future research, the team plans to study the DNA of people who lived in the ancient city of Chang’an, which was the capital of several dynasties in ancient China for thousands of years, and was also located at the eastern end of the famous Silk Road, which was in the midst of an important Eurasian trade network. The team hopes that DNA analysis will reveal more data about how migration and cultural exchange unfolded in ancient China.

2024/02 China establishes AI education bases in 184 primary and secondary schools China’s Ministry of Education (MOE) has announced a list of 184 primary and secondary schools selected as artificial intelligence (AI) education bases, with the aim of better promoting the development of AI education. To facilitate the implementation of AI education, primary and secondary schools should mainly rely on information technology, general technology and other related courses, further enrich educational and teaching resources, and carry out teacher training and guidance, said the MOE. The MOE said it will strengthen guidance for the designated bases, encouraging them to play an exemplary and leading role in developing AI school-based curricula, integrating disciplines, reforming teaching methods, jointly constructing and sharing digital education resources, cultivating teachers’ digital literacy, and fostering the comprehensive development of students, among other responsibilities.

2024/01 Self-driving police patrol cars tested in Beijing demonstration zone Fifteen self-driving patrol cars, complete with flashing lights, hit the public roads in the autonomous driving demonstration area Daxing in Beijing. The unmanned vehicles will patrol an area of 60 square km in the Beijing driving demonstration area. Since Beijing initiated the autonomous driving demonstration area in September 2020, it has built 160 square km of area equipped with intelligent connected roads and a dedicated smart city network. The duties being tested include patrolling, ensuring security for large-scale events, public announcements, issuing warnings and emergency rescue work. The unmanned patrol cars possess Level 4 autonomous driving technology. They can complete battery replacement in 30 seconds and have a driving range of 100 km. They feature a 360-degree multi-sensor fusion perception capability with a detection range of up to 120 meters. The powerful onboard computing platform can calculate and respond based on road conditions in real time, thus ensuring vehicle driving safety. A total of 28 vehicle testing companies are operating in the demonstration area. Over 800 vehicles are now engaged in testing and commercial exploration, with a cumulative test mileage exceeding 20 million km.

2023/12 The YAO genome: a more accurate genome sequence for the Han population A team of geneticists has assembled a complete human genome reference for Han Chinese, the first of its kind and which could potentially promote precision medicine in China. The telomere-to-telomere (T2T) gapless diploid genome sequence of a healthy male individual, named T2T-YAO, contained two complete sets of chromosomes, one from each parent, and the Y-chromosome that passes only from male parents to male offspring. A similar work, T2T-CHM13, published in 2022 by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, fulfilled 8 percent of the previously unknown highly repetitive region in the human genome. However, it was of European-origin and without the Y-chromosome, thus not enough for representing all individuals worldwide. The scientists from Peking University People’s Hospital and Beijing Institute of Genomics (BIG) under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, collected samples from an ancient village in Hongtong County in Shanxi Province in the north of China, a place believed to be a starting point of the countrywide mass migration in around the late 14th century. The YAO part of the name stems from the sampling point located near the ruins of the capital of the legendary Chinese emperor Yao, while T2T stands for telomere-to-telomere or end-to-end sequence of all chromosomes in the genome. A comparative analysis conducted by the Chinese team has revealed that about 11 percent of YAO’s genome is not alignable to that of T2T-CHM13, with about 3,000 different genes in each genome, a discrepancy much wider than previously estimated, said Gao Zhancheng from Peking University People’s Hospital, the paper’s correspondence author. The significant discrepancies between the individual genomes of the two human populations in the study are mainly attributed to the mass of non-coding DNA, accounting for nearly 99 percent of the genome, he added. Recently, some of those non-coding DNA sequences were found to serve important functional roles, such as in the regulation of gene expression, while the functions of other non-coding DNA remain unknown. Gao and his collaborators have found that YAO is mostly of East Asian origin and admixed with sporadic predicted markers of South Asia, Europe, and America. The markers from South Asia are a little more than those stemming from Europe and America, revealing greater genetic exchange between the East Asian and South Asian ethnic groups, according to the study. In addition, the haplotype of Y-chromosome in YAO, a predominant type in China and Asia, has also been identified in ancient DNA samples from a Neolithic site in the nearby Shaanxi Province dating back to approximately 4,000 years ago, which suggests a potential genetic continuity in the region from the earliest days of human habitation in this part of China. The reference human genome is known as a genetic “navigation map” widely used in human genetics and medical research, and the great genome discrepancies among ethnic groups suggest that YAO is a more appropriate reference genome for Han Chinese. The YAO genome can thus provide more accurate gene and mutation information for the Han Chinese population in establishing a technical system and quality benchmark for clinical research such as genetic disease diagnosis, disease risk prediction, cancer studies, and precision medicine in China.

2023/11 Oxygen on Mars: “Machine chemist”develops suitable catalyst without human intervention While preparing for a future Mars mission, researchers from CAS University of Science  of China (USTC) and Technology have developed the following rationale: The oxygen content in the Martian atmosphere is extremely low. However, recently it was found that there is a large amount of water on Mars. Thus, the use of solar power on Mars could provide electricity to parse out oxygen from the water. This will need a suitable catalyst, but the cost of its transportation from Earth to Mars is forbidding. Therefore, the catalyst should be synthesised locally on Mars. However, low temperature, low pressure and high radiation on Mars is unfavorable for R&D on Mars after human landing. Thus, a “machine chemist” should be developed to achieve this task. Using Martian meteorite materials and a machine-learning model derived from both first-principles data and experimental measurements, the USTC researchers have developed an automated synthesis and intelligent optimization of catalysts for the required oxygen evolution reaction. The entire process, including Martian ore pretreatment, catalyst synthesis, characterization, testing and the search for the optimal catalyst formula was performed without human intervention. To arrive at this result, the system studied more than 50,000 related chemical papers, used its ‘intelligent brain’ to think and design a basic formula, and then did experiments and constantly adjusted the ratio according to the results. After six weeks it had found the best formula. The resulting polymetallic material (comprising Mn, Fe, Ni, Mg, Al and Ca) catalysed the oxygen evolution with an overpotential of 445.1 mV at a current density of 10 mA cm−2, maintained for 550,000 s (153 hrs). Further, the stress test at −37 °C, which mimics the temperature condition on Mars, confirmed that it can steadily produce oxygen without apparent deterioration, suggesting that it can work in the harsh conditions on Mars.

2023/10 First Belt and Road Science and Technology Conference BRST with attendants from 80 countries in Chongqing The Press Office of the State Council held a press conference on the afternoon of October 30 to explain the situation related to the first “One Belt and Road” Science and Technology Exchange Conference. According to the conference, China has so far signed intergovernmental science and technology cooperation agreements with more than 80 One Belt and One Road joint construction countries, and together they have established a comprehensive, multi-level science and technology cooperation network. The Science and Technology Daily reported. Zhang Guangjun, deputy director of the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), said, “China has deepened all-round science and technology exchanges with the co-construction countries in terms of jointly promoting human and cultural exchanges. China has supported more than 10,000 young scientists from the jointly constructed countries for short-term activities and exchanges in China. A total of 16,000 scientists and managers have been trained in the co-constructing countries,” he explained. In terms of jointly improving scientific research capabilities, China has implemented several joint research projects with the co-constructing countries, jointly constructed more than 50 One Belt One Road joint laboratories in several fields such as agriculture, medicine, information, new energy, and basic research, and established 10 overseas science education cooperation centers. In terms of joint services for improving civilian life, China has co-constructed countries and built several cooperation platforms, including a public health science and technology cooperation center, an agricultural technology model center, a technology model center for fungus plants (large herbaceous plants that can be used as cultivation of edible mushrooms), a sea water aquaculture research center, and a mountain disaster research center The company is supporting the construction of several cooperation platforms, including a model center for mycorrhizal technology (large herbaceous plants that can be used to cultivate edible mushrooms), a research center for sea water aquaculture, and a research center for mountain disasters. At the same time, it has implemented a “small but great” cooperation project to promote increased beneficiaries from scientific and technological achievements. In terms of joint support for industrial development, China is promoting science and technology park cooperation and multi-sectoral technology practical application demonstration with co-building countries. China has built nine global technology commercialization centers for ASEAN, Arab countries, Africa, and other regions, and together with other countries has established a technology commercialization network that covers a wide range of areas, contributing to the industrial upgrading of each country. In terms of joint support for the transmission of civilization, China has carried out scientific research cooperation with co-building countries in joint archaeological research and cultural relic protection. It explores the Silk Road’s multifarious and wonderful history, and at the same time demonstrates the harmony of mutual learning of civilizations. Zhang said, “In the future, China will continue to deepen the implementation of the One Belt, One Road Science and Technology Innovation Action Plan with the co-building countries, gather the strength of cooperation through openness and innovation, explore the development path through joint discussion and joint construction, and promote more open, inclusive, mutually beneficial and shared international science and technology cooperation and exchange together. We look forward to a more open, inclusive, mutually beneficial, and shared international scientific and technological cooperation and exchange together

2023/09 Big Data Center publishes satellite data on BRI urban nighttime light emissions The International Research Center of Big Data for Sustainable Development Goals (CBAS) has released the world’s first atlas of urban nighttime light remote-sensing data, providing support for the research on urban sustainable development. The atlas contains 10-meter resolution nighttime light data on 147 cities in 105 countries around the world. The data were captured by the satellite SDGSAT-1, which was launched into space on Nov. 5, 2021 and is the world’s first space science satellite dedicated to serving the U.N. 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The satellite is designed to provide space observation data for the monitoring, evaluation and study of interactions between humans, nature and sustainable development, according to its developer, the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The SDG Center signed a cooperation agreement with the Earth Observation Organization. The two parties will continue to carry out cross-field cooperation in data sharing, talent exchanges, capacity building and other aspects, and jointly explore ways to accelerate the progress of the second half of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. method.

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