Human-like robot industry embraces golden age, to feature products with emotions in 5-10 years

NVIDIA CEO Jensen Huang made a splash again in the field of humanoid robots as he was reported to have predicted, in a recent interview, that humanoid robots will soon become mainstream products at prices reaching $10,000 to $20,000 per unit, making them accessible to a wide range of consumers. That will also revolutionize various other industries.

The statement came about a month after he introduced nine humanoid robots at NVIDIA's 2024 GPU Technology Conference (GTC) on March 18. "Building foundation models for general humanoid robots is one of the most exciting problems to solve in AI today," Hung said at that conference.

Hung's judgments, to some extent, can be viewed as a footnote to the golden age of the development of humanoid robots under the stimulus of the boosting of the artificial intelligent (AI) industry in recent years.

Research unveiled during the inaugural China Humanoid Robot Industry Conference in Beijing from April 9 to 10 predicted that the value of the Chinese humanoid robot market will surpass 10 billion yuan, reaching 10.47 billion yuan ($1.45 billion) by 2026, and is anticipated to soar to 119 billion yuan by 2030.

The booming market is seemingly telling people that intelligent humanoid robots that can simulate human thinking and consciousness, as depicted in films like Ex Machina and A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Artificial Intelligence, are almost a reality. But will they come as soon and as easily as predicted by the industry?

Golden age

Humanoid robots are dubbed "humanoid" because they are designed to emulate and potentially surpass human capabilities in form, function, behavior, and even cognitive processes, Zhang Rui, founder and executive director of the Beijing Ironman Technology, told the Global Times.

"Without the need for massive changes to the existing environment, humanoid robots can seamlessly integrate into various scenarios, using their flexible and dynamic execution capabilities to meet complex and dynamic task requirements. Furthermore, their human-like characteristics enable them to easily manipulate human tools, further expanding their application areas," Zhang said.

Therefore, humanoid robots are not only a symbol of technological progress but also a significant force driving future social development, he noted.

Humanoid robots have already been widely applied in various industries, with the aerospace sector being one of the most prominent, according to Zhang. Several countries including the US, Russia, and China have been deeply researching the application of humanoid robots in the aerospace field. These robots are mainly used to replace humans in performing dangerous and complex operations, ensuring the safety of astronauts and improving the efficiency and success rate of space missions.

Other major application areas of humanoid robots include border defense and lights-out factories, or smart factories, according to experts.

"The continuous innovation and breakthroughs in AI technology in recent years have indeed provided humanoid robots with more powerful perception, decision-making, and execution capabilities. This allows humanoid robots to more accurately understand human language, recognize environmental information, and make more reasonable decisions and actions," Zhang said.

In the future, Zhang expects humanoid robots to have enormous potential in areas such as general hardware execution, dynamic adaptation, and environmental integration.

The ultimate dream of global humanoid robot developers is to let humanoid robots be integrated into people's daily lives and serve every family, according to Zhang.

The rapid development of AI technology has played a crucial role in the advancement of humanoid robots. In return, the advancement of humanoid robots is viewed by many industry observers as a major milestone in the AI era, pushing the boundaries of AI research.

Chinese experts and industry observers consider humanoid robots a breakthrough for the "AI Plus" initiative aimed at fostering innovative development in the digital economy. The humanoid robot industry is seemingly embracing its golden age.
Booming market

The thriving progress of humanoid robots is drawing increasing attention from international tech giants. Besides NVIDIA, Tesla is also actively working on a humanoid robot named Optimus. OpenAI, Microsoft, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos have made substantial investments in humanoid robot startup Figure AI. Additionally, Agility Robotics, backed by Amazon, has established the world's first large-scale humanoid robot production factory in Oregon, the US, capable of producing 10,000 two-legged robots annually.

A group of innovative and competitive Chinese companies have also emerged in the field of humanoid robots with increasing policy emphasis and investment in robot technology in China.

In March, the Beijing humanoid robot innovation center announced that it would soon release the first generation of a universal open humanoid robot body, drawing global attention to the development of China's humanoid robot industry and its supporting industry chain.

Established in November 2023, the center is a major move by Beijing to seize the valuable opportunity to develop the humanoid robot industry.

As the country's first humanoid robot innovation center, the center focuses on the most common five technical tasks for the development of the humanoid robot industry, namely the prototype, general large model, motion control system, tool chain, and operating system. Among them, the prototype is viewed as the body of the humanoid robot, the motion control system is the cerebellum that controls limb movement, and the general large model is the brain.

The Global Times learned from Zhu Songchun, director of the Beijing Institute for General Artificial Intelligence, that the institute would unveil its intelligent humanoid robot prototype TongTong on April 27 at the 2024 Zhongguancun Forum in Beijing which will be held from April 25 to 29. Zhu is a member of the expert committee of the above-mentioned humanoid robot innovation center of Beijing.

According to Zhu, TongTong will be able to complete tasks like assisting humans with pouring tea and water, and offering warm companionship in households, as well as being deployed in multiple tailored scenarios such as nursing homes. In the future, a family for TongTong will be created, including grandparents, younger siblings, and friends.

Among the nine robots showcased at the NVIDIA 2024 GTC, two were developed by Chinese companies, namely H1 from Hangzhou Unitree Robotics and PX5 from Xiaopeng Pengxing.

The Global Times learned from Unitree Robotics that H1 is a full-size humanoid robot capable of running, and equipped with 360 panoramic depth perception. Currently, it can reach a speed of 3.3 meters per second, setting a world record for full-size electric humanoid robots, with a potential speed of up to 5 meters per second.

This robot boasts highly advanced full-body dynamic coordination capabilities, enabling it to dance in groups and execute backflips. As a result, NVIDIA opted to partner with Unitree to collectively propel the global advancement of AI robots.

According to the company's response sent to the Global Times, NVIDIA, a front-runner in GPU and AI chip technology, furnishes Unitree's robots with robust computing capabilities and comprehensive support in deep learning technology.

According to a report by Cailian Press on April 2, the price of H1 is about 650,000 yuan each and 100 units of this model have already been sold.

KUAVO, a product by Chinese company Leju Robot, was sold at about 600,000 yuan, with 30 having been sold. KUAVO is mainly designed for education thus most of its purchasers are colleges and scientific research institutes.

Another Chinese company Kepler Exploration Robotics' product K1 also reportedly sold at a similar price of $20,000, the price of a second-generation Tesla Optimus. The product is designated for smart factories and is expected to be put into mass production in the second half of this year.

Lowering prices will be a major goal for most manufacturers in order to gain market share, Cailian Press reported citing a staff member from Leju.

The company's expansion will be on household service scenarios, with plans to reduce the price of KUAVO to around 200,000 yuan to meet the consumption ability of household users.

Challenges ahead

Although the combination of AI and robots brings many advantages, we must also face the challenges and problems that come with it. First, as the autonomy of robots increases, ensuring the safety and controllability of their behavior has become an urgent issue that needs to be addressed. Second, the integration of AI and robots may lead to the disappearance of a large number of traditional jobs, triggering adjustments in the social employment structure. Additionally, data privacy and security issues are also worth paying attention to, as protecting personal privacy and preventing data leaks have become important topics, Zhang Rui noted.

Zhang believes hardware challenges are a crucial obstacle. While we can achieve various complex functions and performance at the algorithm level, it is often difficult to achieve the desired output power and efficiency in actual robot hardware, he said.

On the other hand, the current progress of AI technology is mainly limited to deepening and innovating at the logical level, with insufficient breakthroughs in thinking and emotional aspects. While the form of robots is malleable, the "spirit" of their internal thought processes and emotions is still an unexplored frontier.

Zhang believes it will take another 5-10 years to achieve a 70-percent similarity with human emotions.

The deep integration of AI and humanoid robots also faces significant challenges. Some experts believe that with the continuous advancement of chips and algorithms, artificial general intelligence (AGI) - a type of artificial intelligence (AI) that can perform as well or better than humans on a wide range of cognitive tasks - will be realized in the near future.

However, Liu Wei, director of the human-machine interaction and cognitive engineering laboratory at the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, pointed out that AGI may be a false proposition. This is not because current AI systems have not reached the level of general intelligence, but because AI fundamentally perform and learns like humans.

Completing the industry chain is also a vital field that Chinese humanoid robot manufacturers and authorities are working on to promote the industry at this rare development time.

In Yizhuang, Beijing, where the Beijing humanoid robot innovation center is located, 110 robotic companies have gathered here, forming a complete industrial chain system covering core components, complete machines, and applications. The whole robot industry in this area is expected to reach a scale of 10 billion yuan in 2025.

With this progress in technology and the gradual improvement of regulations, industry insiders firmly believe that humanoid robots will demonstrate their unique charm in more fields, contributing more to the development of human society.

China's success in EV development lies in innovation, not 'overcapacity'

Recently, US officials have accused Chinese industry of overcapacity, particularly in sectors like electric vehicles (EVs), solar panels, and semiconductors. They argue that China's low-priced products threaten industries in the US.

However, a closer examination from the perspective of technological cycles, industrial organizational structure evolution, and the role of industrial policies reveals a reality that contradicts the US officials' ridiculous claim.

Critics often attribute China's competitive edge in new-energy products to overcapacity, pointing to the low prices of Chinese manufactured goods. Yet, this oversimplification ignores the complexities of technological progress and industrial dynamics. Historically, constant tech advancements have led to cost reductions and improved affordability for ordinary consumers.

China's edge in new-energy technology and Chinese EVs' relatively low market share overseas suggest that the price advantage is driven by homegrown innovation while not overcapacity.

Moreover, China's leading position in patents for key technologies like solid-state batteries underscores its technological prowess. While some argue that "China is flooding international markets with cheap products," the reality is different.

For instance, Chinese new-energy vehicles (NEVs) are often priced higher overseas than domestically, for example, the BYD Seal is priced at 180,000 yuan ($24,880) in China, approximately 370,000 yuan in the Netherlands, and 411,800 yuan in the UK, indicating that pricing strategies are not solely dictated by oversupply but also by market dynamics and production efficiency.

Hence, the competitive pricing of China's new-energy products stems not merely from sufficient supply, but rather from overcoming technological barriers through diligent research and development, constant enhancement of product performance to lower costs, and optimizing production efficiency across the entire industrial chain.

Another criticism leveled against China is the prevalence of loss-making manufacturers, which some attribute to government support and a refusal to allow companies to exit the market. However, this isn't telling the truth. Losses in high-tech industries during the early stages of development are not uncommon, as companies often require significant investment in research and development.

For example, Amazon was founded in 1995, but it did not become profitable until 2015, according to media reports. Tesla was established in 2003, but it did not make a profit until 2020. In particular, Tesla was once on the verge of bankruptcy because of its inability to mass produce. The survival of these companies depends on their ability to attract capital and their competitiveness in the market.

While some NEV ventures in China have indeed experienced losses, market forces determine their fate. Companies with competitive products can attract funding and continue to operate, while others may exit the market due to lack of competitiveness. In the past four years, 12 NEV companies in China have closed down, including WM Motor and AIWAYS. Rather than being solely attributed to overcapacity, the ability of loss-making companies to survive and eventually thrive is a testament to the investors' belief in the industry's potential and the companies' ability to deliver on that promise.

Critics also point to China's industrial policies as a factor contributing to "overcapacity." However, a comparison with industrial policies in developed countries tells a different story. Moderate policy support is not indicative of overcapacity but rather reflects a strategic approach to nurturing emerging industries. Industrial policy has played a crucial role in driving innovation and fostering economic transformation in developed countries.

For instance, the US government's support for the domestic semiconductor industry in the 1950s and South Korea's protection of its local semiconductor chip industry in the 1990s demonstrate the positive impact of government policy interventions.

In recent years, the US has implemented subsidy policies aimed at promoting the adoption of NEVs. However, the outcomes of these initiatives have been less than satisfactory.

For instance, under the US Inflation Reduction Act, EVs assembled exclusively in North America were eligible for a maximum subsidy of $7,500 in tax deductions. Despite this incentive, major companies such as Apple and Ford have shelved their plans for all-electric vehicles. Even with government subsidies in place, many American firms struggle to keep pace in the competitive landscape of the NEV industry.

Overall, the industrial policies of China's new-energy development have been very successful. The Chinese government has not only proactively and effectively laid out the new-energy industry, but also gradually reduced policy support after nurturing a large number of enterprises, accelerating the survival of the fittest for new-energy enterprises.

The accusations of "overcapacity" in China's new-energy industries are misguided and oversimplified. China's success in the industries is not the result of overcapacity but rather of strategic investment in technology, innovation, and market-driven policies. Rather than blaming China for its competitiveness, a more constructive approach would involve understanding and leveraging global market dynamics to foster cooperation and innovation in the new-energy sector.

Exploring China's rural transformation along Xi's footsteps - Guangxi's grape village Maozhushan

Editor's Note:

China Rural Revitalization magazine has published a series of articles on the rapid development of rural areas in China with new transformations. The articles reflect the arduous efforts of rural revitalization across China, which is an important and genuine solution to China's rural economic development. In the future, articles selected from this series will be published.
Maozhushan village, located in Nanyi village, Caiwan town of Guilin in South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, is a natural village with only 46 households and 156 residents. The village, although named for the mountains and hills of moso bamboo, is known far and wide for the development of its local grape industry for over 20 years.

In 2002, grapes were first grown in Maozhushan, a once-impoverished village covering an area of 60 hectares. Many young villagers who moved to big cities as migrant workers gradually returned to their home village and were employed in the grape industry.

In April 2021, when Chinese President Xi Jinping paid a formal visit to Guangxi, he stopped at Maozhushan village.

Xi, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, inspected the local grape-growing industry and called for greater efforts to pursue rural vitalization based on local specialty industries to make better use of science and technology in promoting the agricultural sector.

He also stressed measures that can ensure farmers to benefit more from the development of rural industries.

Xi walked through the village, dropping by the home of villager Wang Deli and chatting with the family.

He said that as the CPC is about to celebrate its centennial in 2021, China has scored a complete victory in its fight against poverty. However, he said promoting rural vitalization on all fronts will be no easier than the battle to fight poverty, allowing no letup or sluggishness.

Tech empowerment

"We planted a total of more than 320 mu (21.3 hectares) of grapes, with 192 mu of grape varieties improved. After the improvement, the retail price of grapes per jin (0.5 kilogram) increased by 3-5 yuan ($0.69)," said Wang Hairong, head of the local grape planting association.

In discussing new varieties and technologies used by the village's grape industry in the past few years, Wang has strong opinions.

"We also standardized the grape planting base, converting the old simple sheds into greenhouses with steel frame structure. In addition, we have promoted the application of organic cultivation, drip irrigation and water-fertilizer integration and other technologies, which has not only saved water and fertilizer, but also reduced costs," Wang noted.

Wang stressed that the village set up a 5G intelligent agricultural system - the Maozhushan grape industry digital platform. The platform not only aimed at the scientific management and care of grapes to provide timely and effective data support, but also has significantly reduced the incidence of grape pests and diseases as well as improved the quality of grapes.

"The average yield increase reached nearly 500 jin per mu," Wang said.

In addition to the "hard technology," Maozhushan village also pays special attention to the "soft power" of enhancing the scientific planting of grapes. Over recent years, the village has worked with several Guangxi agricultural research institutions to better promote the development of local grape growing.

The majority of agricultural experts and technicians not only go into the field to guide the adoption of key technologies of grape planting, but also give their opinions and suggestions from the introduction of products, equipment supply to orders for the acquisition.

Pristine water & hills

Noting the changes that have occurred to the environment of Maozhushan village, Wang Junrong, Party chief of Nanyi village, said that over the recent years, local authorities have earnestly practiced the concept of "lucid waters and lush mountains are as invaluable as silver and gold," vigorously implementing a number of infrastructure renewal projects.

In addressing the Maozhushan village environment, Wu Yecheng, an official from the Caiwan town government, was involved in the entire infrastructure upgrading and renovation projects.

According to Wu, Maozhushan village has built a cultural center, a basketball court, a theater, and completed 3.5 kilometers of road widening project as well as 2,200 square meters of parking lot construction and rainwater and sewage separation project.

In addition, the local township government carried out a comprehensive soil and water conservation management project in small watersheds, successfully transforming two weirs and one waterwheel, and comprehensively managed an area of 37.14 square kilometers to protect against soil erosion.

The projects have greatly improved the local environment, with water diversion and irrigation as well as flood discharge and flood relief capacity comprehensively upgraded, said Wu.

In addition, Maozhushan village has also completed the intelligent transformation of a high-standard power grid, providing electric power support for the wider use of drip irrigation technologies for the grape planting bases, so that the local grape industry has withstood the test of the summer and autumn drought in northern Guilin in 2022, with the grape yield increased that year.

The local government has also coordinated with the local telecom company to realize the full coverage of the mobile signal across the village, in a bid to strengthen the timely, fast and accurate communication between the village and the outside world.

In 2022, the theatrical movie My Hometown Maozhushan was filmed in the village, greatly enhancing its popularity and influence.

Hungary-Serbia railway could inspire divided world as protectionism rises

The construction of the Hungary-Serbia railway, a flagship project of the China-proposed Belt and Road initiative (BRI), will help inject new impetus into the economies of the two countries. The railway, plus the China-Serbia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) signed in 2023, may provide people with a new perspective on the increasingly fragmented global trade situation.

As reported by the Xinhua News Agency on Sunday, Serbia's Minister of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure Goran Vesic said that Serbia's participation in the BRI has boosted the overall development of the country and its neighbors. He cited the construction of the Hungary-Serbia railway as an example of successful BRI cooperation.

The Hungary-Serbia railway is a double-track electrified railway with a total length of 341.7 kilometers, including 183.1 kilometers in Serbia. Sitting at the crossroads of Central and Southern Europe - and often seen as a geographical region that straddles both Eastern and Western Europe - Serbia has unique geographical advantages. The construction of the railway is expected to improve connectivity between Hungary and Serbia and help clear barriers from Serbia to Greece's Piraeus Port, a transit hub connecting Europe, Asia and Africa.

The Hungary-Serbia railway is considered an important project to improve physical connectivity, as part of multifaceted cooperation aimed at deepening economic exchanges. 

Connectivity includes not only physical infrastructure like roads and railways but also institutional arrangements to make it easier to strengthen exchanges among different regions.

China and Serbia signed an FTA in October 2023. The signing of the FTA and subsequent tariff cuts have enhanced trade relations, boosted Serbia's exports and - more importantly - served as a bridge to open up new trade routes and ramp up trade and investment between China and Europe. 

Trade between China and Europe reached $1.215 trillion in 2023. Both sides have strong trade complementarity, and unleashing this potential can generate more positive influences on Europe's economy, helping solve problems it faces, such as stubborn inflation. 

The lingering question is how to unleash this huge potential. There are two critical factors. On the one hand, we should continue to promote infrastructure interconnectivity; on the other hand, we should take concrete actions to reject all forms of protectionism and unequivocally advocate for and support free trade.

Facing a complex and volatile international situation, China and Serbia, acting as each other's "ironclad friends," have continuously enhanced cooperation in multiple fields such as railway infrastructure construction and free trade. These factors interact with one another, forming a joint force to boost economic cooperation.

The nature of cooperation is mutually beneficial, and that's why the Serbian side holds a positive attitude toward cooperation with China. Vesic said Serbia is proud of its participation in the BRI, under which Chinese companies have undertaken many infrastructure projects in the country.

The construction of the Hungary-Serbia railway reached a milestone on April 25, when the track-laying work for a 108-kilometer section between Novi Sad and Subotica in Serbia was completed. It's not always easy to undertake large-scale infrastructure projects, and the construction of the Hungary-Serbia railway faces some challenges, but the project has been steadily advancing. That's because this is good for the Serbian economy, which could benefit greatly from infrastructure projects.

Amid global economic uncertainty, various countries, including those in Europe, are trying to gain new growth momentum as traditional drivers weaken. What is needed today is to improve economic connectivity and further promote free trade. As long as cooperation can bring tangible economic benefits to local economies, it will eventually overcome temporary challenges and difficulties.

The US-advocated "decoupling" and Washington's geopolitical games have brought enormous challenges to global trade, but globalization and free trade are the only ways to promote mutually beneficial cooperation. Politicians with a sober mind will not politicize economic issues and not fall into the "decoupling from China" trap.

Manila's denial of objective facts hurts its own credibility: FM

The Chinese Embassy in the Philippines released details about the relevant communication between China and the Philippines in terms of managing the situation at Ren'ai Jiao. The facts are clear and backed by hard evidence that cannot be denied, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian told a press conference on Wednesday, urging the Philippines to honor its commitment, and stop maritime infringement and provocation at once.

On Tuesday, Bloomberg cited a Chinese official on background, said a transcript of the supposed recording of a phone call with Western Command Commander Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos "may be released to the public within days." In the transcript, Carlos agreed to a "new model" for resupply missions concerning Ren'ai Jiao.

The transcript which documented the phone conversation between the Chinese side and Carlos on January 3 has been confirmed to be true, the Global Times has learned from a source familiar with the affair on Wednesday.   Following the conversation, the Philippine side adhered to the "new mode" in the subsequent resupply mission, only delivering essential daily supplies to the grounded warship, and notified the Chinese side in advance.

Based on the "new model" arrangement and humanitarian principle, the Chinese side permitted the Philippine resupply operation, said the source. 

However, thereafter, the Philippine side reneged on its promise. Not only did it fail to notify the Chinese side in advance of its resupply activities, but it also attempted to transport construction materials to the illegally grounded vessel, deliberately causing trouble and maliciously hyping up the situation. 

The China Coast Guard has firmly restricted the Philippine's illegal resupply activities, according to the source. 

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian said at the Wednesday press conference that the Philippine side has insisted on denying these objective facts and seeks to mislead the international community. This hurts its own credibility and puts peace and stability in the South China Sea in jeopardy.

China urges the Philippines to honor its commitment, stop maritime infringement and provocation at once, and return to the right track of properly handling disputes with China through dialogue and consultation, Lin noted. 

The Philippines' recent denials of the "new model" and the "gentlemen's agreement" reflect the chaos and management confusion as well as multiple conflicting stances within the Philippine government regarding its policies toward China, Ge Hongliang, deputy director of the College of ASEAN Studies at Guangxi University for Nationalities, told the Global Times. 

Manila's repeated violations of the gentlemen's agreement between the two sides, or in other words, consensus reached through consultations over dispute management, weaken its claim of seeking a peaceful resolution to the dispute. Its accusing China of "jeopardizing regional peace and security" doesn't hold water, Ge said. 

Unlike the Philippines, which is becoming a pawn of the US in the latter's competition with China in the region, China does not wish to see further deterioration of the situation in the South China Sea. China will continue to promote the peaceful resolution of South China Sea disputes through bilateral channels, Ge said. 

China successfully launches epic Chang’e-6 lunar probe in first human attempt to retrieve samples from far side of the Moon

China has made another historic stride in its deep space endeavors on Friday, as the Long March-5 Y8 carrier rocket blasted off at 5:27 pm from the Wenchang Space Launch Site in South China’s tropical island of Hainan, sending the Chang’e-6 lunar probe onto its odyssey in the world’s first ever attempt to bring back lunar samples from the far side of the Moon.

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) confirmed the success of the launch after two pairs of solar panels of the spacecraft opened smoothly.

The round trip of Chang'e-6 to the moon and back will take about 53 days, more than double the duration of its predecessor Chang’e-5, which returned samples from the near side of the moon in some 23 days, media reported.

The longer duration also indicates more complex flight stages – researchers have designed 11 stages for Chang’e-6, including launch and orbit insertion, lunar transfer, among others, media reported on Friday.

The amount of Moon samples to be returned this time is also expected to be larger than the Chang’e-5 mission. It is expected to retrieve around 2,000 grams of lunar dust and rocks, an increase of some 270 grams than the last time.

The Chang'e-6 mission aims to break new ground in lunar retrograde orbit design and control, intelligent sampling on the moon's far side, and ascent from the lunar surface, according to the CNSA. It will conduct an automated sample return from the moon's far side, along with scientific exploration of the landing area and international collaboration, the agency added.

After flying into orbit, it will head toward the Moon. Upon reaching its vicinity, the probe will brake to enter lunar orbit, and then fly around the orbit, during which time the lander and ascender combination will land on the far side of the moon, a research fellow with CASC revealed on Friday.

After completing the sampling, the ascender carrying the collected lunar soil will take off from the far side of the Moon to rendezvous and dock with the orbiter-returner combination, transfer the lunar samples to the returner, and then head back to Earth. It will re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere in a semi-ballistic skip manner and land in Siziwang Banner, North China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

Chang'e-6 will adopt the same sampling methods used by Chang'e-5, utilizing drilling and scooping to obtain samples from different layers and depths of the lunar surface, simultaneously conducting scientific exploration on the lunar far side.

The location of the drilling is targeted at the Aitken Basin in the lunar south pole, a crater formed some 4 billion years ago and believed to contain water ice.

The Aitken Basin is one of the three major lunar landforms, and is the oldest and deepest impact crater basin on the moon, with significant scientific research value.

“This is of great significance for humans to have a more comprehensive understanding of the Moon, deepen the study of lunar origin and evolution, planetary evolution, and the origin of the solar system,” said Hu Zhenyu, the chief engineer of the launch site engineering technology group for the mission.

To promote international cooperation, the Chang’e-6 mission will carry a number of international payloads to the Moon, including the European Space Agency's lunar surface ion composition analyzer, France's radon detection instrument, Italy's laser corner reflector, and a CubeSat from Pakistan, the CNSA revealed to the Global Times.

The Chang'e-6 mission is part of the country’s Phase-4 lunar exploration program, which eyes landing taikonauts on the Moon before 2030.

China is also leading the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) project together with Russia in the lunar south pole. The project will see a basic station built by 2035 and an expansion set for completion by 2045, with a moon-orbiting space station as the hub and facilities featuring complete functions.

So far, nearly 20 countries and organizations have joined the ILRS, including US Hawaii-based International Lunar Observatory Association, Swiss company Nano-SPACE for Cooperation, and France's Thales Group.

The mission comes amid increasing efforts by various countries to enhance their lunar programs, driven by a heightened interest in the opportunities for accessing resources and advancing deep space exploration.

Following Russia, the US and China, India successfully landed its first spacecraft on the Moon last year. And in January this year, Japan became the fifth member to join the lunar landing club, but its lander soon faced power issues due to incorrect landing angle.

The US is also pursuing its own schemes to return astronauts to the Moon as soon as 2026 and build a scientific base camp. However, the program, called Artemis, has been facing a number of challenges that put the scheduled date in question.

The Long March-5 carrier rocket, with a total length of nearly 60 meters and a takeoff mass of about 869 tons, is a true “giant” in China’s rocket family.

It is equipped with four boosters and has a payload capacity of 25 tons to low Earth orbit and 14 tons to geostationary transfer orbit, making it the largest launch vehicle in active service in China.

Since the Chang'e-6 probe is 100 kilograms heavier than Chang'e-5, designers have managed to help the rocket to "lose weight" and thus increasing Long March-5’s lunar transfer orbit payload capacity by 100 kilograms to meet the requirements of its “passenger,” the CASC revealed.

Two giant panda cubs set off for their new home in Madrid

The giant pandas "Jin Xi" and "Zhu Yu" on Monday took off from Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport, bound for Madrid Zoo in Spain to begin a 10-year stay. 

Chinese netizens and panda fans have expressed their hope that the two pandas will be well taken care of in Spain. "While abroad, please let the Spanish fans take over the guardianship and take good care of you two babies!" one netizen wrote.

"As the 20th generation of pandas, you two can fly the highest and farthest, opening a new chapter in your panda lives. Stay safe and healthy in a foreign land, and may you spend these long 10 years happily and joyfully!" said another.

"Jin Xi," a male panda, was born on September 1, 2020. "Zhu Yu," a female giant panda, was born on October 25, 2020.

According to Chinese flight tracking platform Feichangzhun, the China Airlines CA3103 cargo plane is responsible for transporting the pandas. The flight took off at 11:24 am on Monday Beijing time, with an estimated flight time of 13 hours and 53 minutes, arriving at Madrid Barajas Airport at 7:20 pm, local time. This is the first pair of pandas to travel to Europe for residency since the second half of 2019. 

To ensure the smooth arrival of the two pandas in Spain, both China and Spain have made thorough preparations. The Chinese panda base has isolated and quarantined the two pandas ahead of travel, ensuring dedicated care and regular check-ups. 

To ensure comfort and safety during the transportation, the panda base has customized special air transport cages to allow the pandas to move, eat, and rest freely inside the cage. Additionally, the panda base has prepared an ample supply of fresh and high-quality local bamboo and bamboo shoots from Southwest China's Sichuan Province, and arranged for a veterinarian and three specialists to accompany the pandas on the flight to take care of "Jin Xi" and "Zhu Yu's" health and diet. 

After arriving at Madrid Zoo, Chinese experts will stay for about three months to accompany the pandas through the quarantine period, complete stress adaptation and behavioral training, and help them quickly adapt to their new living environment. 

They will also provide technical guidance and operational training on how to take care of pandas to the zookeepers and veterinarians at Madrid Zoo. 

The Madrid Zoo told the Global Times that they will send a press release and videos once the cubs arrive.

Following suggestions of the Chinese expert team, Madrid Zoo has upgraded the panda pavilion in advance, including renovating the cub nursery to meet the needs of panda cub care, and optimized the facility design to cater to the pandas' climbing habits by adding climbing frames, logs, and other play facilities. Those upgraded facilities will be put into use after passing an inspection by the Chinese team.

Spain has achieved the most fruitful results in the cooperative breeding of giant pandas in Europe. Six giant pandas have successfully been given birth in Spain since the cooperation between China and Spain started. The "panda bond" between China and Spain has been maintained for over 40 years.

According to the Madrid Zoo, after arriving in Madrid, the two giant pandas will undergo a one-month quarantine isolation period, and they may meet the public as early as the end of May local time.

China eyes advancing brain-machine interface technology at 2024 ZGC Forum

Officials, scholars, and business representatives agreed to further promote the development of the brain-machine interface (BMI) technology and fully tap into the broad opportunities of frontier sector at the 2024 Zhongguancun Forum (ZGC Forum) on Friday.

Their statements and comments came at the Brain Computer interface Innovation Development Application Forum, a subforum of the ZGC Forum on Friday, one day after China's first high-performance invasive BMI shine the ZGC Forum, among nine other major technological results.

Xie Yuansheng, an official from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), said during the subforum that the development of BMI technology will be prioritized as a major future industry, and vowed to enhance policy guidance to the sector.

The MIIT pledged to further promote opening-up and cooperation linked to the BMI technology sector, in order to tap in potential development prospects, said Xie, adding that the innovation capability, industrial integration and regulation system will be further strengthened.

The Brain Computer Interface Industrial Alliance, unveiled 10 cases of industrial innovation in brain-computer interfaces developed by enterprises at the subforum, including cognitive ability and mental health measurement systems, wireless wearable high-speed brain-computer interaction devices, and portable brain-computer interface driving safety intelligent control systems.

China's self-developed NeuCyber Array BMI System, unveiled on Thursday at the 2024 ZGC Forum, among the 10 cutting-edge technological results, is a high-performance invasive BMI that could be widely applied for medical treatment for patients struggling with neurological and psychiatric brain diseases.

Core high-performance components like high-throughput flexible microelectrodes of the NeuCyber Array BMI System are domestically produced, with performance comparable with the most advanced international levels, Zhao Bing, an engineer with Chinese Institute for Brain Research, said at ZGC Forum.

NeuCyber Array BMI System is China's independently developed and first high-performance invasive BMI, Li Yuan, business development director of NeuCyber NeuroTech (Beijing) Co, the company that developed this BMI brain chip system, told the Global Times on Friday.

The development of BMI technology has broad application prospects, including many with a science fiction flavor, and it is expected that various applications will accelerate landing in near future, contributing to improving the quality of life for the public, Gu Xiaosong, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said at the sideline of the subforum.

In terms of patent transformation and talent cultivation in the field of BMI technology, China is currently leading the world and outpaced the US. In this regard, China's BMI industry has promising prospects, Gu said.

Research teams from Tsinghua University, Beihang University, and other Chinese universities are among the top in international rankings in BMI sector, Gu noted.

Mohamad Sawan, an academician from the Canadian Academy of Engineering and an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Fellow, told the Global Times on Friday that China can provide a better environment and cooperation ecosystem for BMI research, as China has "an equation doesn't exist outside."

Sawan noted that the BMI research needs to integrate multiple disciplines together, and universities, academies of science and engineering, institutes for medical engineering in China make collaboration more efficient and faster. 

When speaking in which area that BMI technology can benefit more people, Sawan pointed out that some health condition cannot be recovered by drugs or surgery, and it may be applied with BMI equipment for providing economical solution, adding that China has the potential to take the lead in this sector.

Xi calls on Chongqing to promote high-quality development

Chinese President Xi Jinping stressed further efforts to usher in a new stage in the development of China's western region featuring well-coordinated environmental conservation, greater openness and high-quality development, when he chaired a symposium on boosting the development of China's western region in the new era in Southwest China's Chongqing Municipality. 

Xi, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, made an inspection tour in Chongqing from Monday to Wednesday. During the visit, he called on Chongqing to further deepen reform and opening up across the board and write its own chapter in advancing Chinese modernization. 

The remarks and the inspection tour highlighted the great importance the top leader attaches to the development of the western region, which covers more than 70 percent of China's land area and is home to nearly 30 percent of the country's population. The region plays a critical role in China's pursuit of high-quality development and Chinese modernization, and holds great potential in various areas, economists said on Wednesday. 

During the symposium on Tuesday, Xi said China's western region has seen significant achievements on eco-environmental conservation and restoration over the past five years, but the region's development is still facing difficulties and challenges, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

The Chinese President said developing industries that leverage local strengths should be the main focus, adding that efforts are needed to adopt a region-specific approach in developing emerging industries and expedite industrial transformation and upgrade in the western region. 

Underscoring the importance attached to greater openness, during the inspection tour of Chongqing, Xi also visited an international logistics hub park to learn about the municipality's efforts in accelerating the development of the New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor in west China, according to Xinhua. 

China's western region covers Chongqing, six provinces and five autonomous regions, including Southwest China's Sichuan and Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, accounting for 21.5 percent of China's GDP. Although the region's development has been lagging behind the country's eastern coastal regions, in recent years development has been picking up pace. Between 2019 and 2023, the region's combined GDP expanded form 20.5 trillion yuan ($2.83 trillion) to 26.9 trillion yuan, with an annual average growth rate of 4.9 percent. 

"The development in the western region has improved significantly in recent years in terms of infrastructure, industrial upgrade and people's livelihoods," Hu Qimu, a deputy secretary-general of the digital-real economies integration Forum 50, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

In terms of industrial development, the western region has also seen rapid development in recent years. The region is home to nine national level strategic emerging industry clusters in areas such as new materials and biomedicine, and five national level advanced manufacturing clusters such as electronic information and aviation. The region's industrial added value has jumped from 5.8 trillion yuan in 2019 to 8.1 trillion yuan in 2023, according to official data. 

Critical role, vast potential

The symposium on Tuesday further highlighted the western region's critical role in China's efforts to bolster both security and development, as well as its enormous potential in areas such as advanced manufacturing and high-level opening-up, economists said.

"The region is tasked not only to boost local industrial development with many industries shift from the east to the west and provide support in resources and other areas, but also to play a bigger role in the country's opening-up efforts," Dong Shaopeng, a senior research fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China, told the Global Times on Wednesday. 

Dong noted that there is still great room for the western region to expand opening-up by bolstering connectivity with countries and regions through land transport corridors. 

The western region has developed multiple trade routes with countries and regions in Europe, Central Asia and Southeast Asia in recent years. The New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor, which connects China's western region with Southeast Asian countries, can reach 490 ports in 120 countries and regions as of January 2024, with cargo volume jumping 21 percent year-on-year in 2023, according to official data.

Moreover, the western region also plays a crucial role in the China-Europe Freight Train Express. Over the past five years, 35,000 China-Europe freight trains have been launched in the western region, accounting for 50.5 percent of the national total. Thanks to the greater connectivity, the total import and export volume of the western region reached 3.7 trillion yuan in 2023, an increase of 37 percent from 2019.

Greater connectivity and openness of the western region is of great importance to the country's efforts to expand high-level opening-up and bolster both security and development, economists said. 

"Although the capacity of land transport remains relatively low, it has a very high level of security compared to sea transport," Hu said, noting that land transport corridors in the western region can better cope with geopolitical tensions and offer a steady channel for transport of strategic resources under extreme circumstances.

Apart from its great importance in China's long-term security and development, the western region is also crucial in the country's efforts to tackle downward pressure and consolidate the economic recovery in the short term by boosting domestic investment and consumption, economists said. 

"Whether it is from the perspective of responding to international situation, or overall coordination of development and security, or the current need to stabilize growth, it is imperative to boost the development of the western region," Hu said, pointing to the huge potential in infrastructure investment and consumption in the region.

As the region's economic development accelerated in recent years, infrastructure construction and consumption has also been expanding steadily. For example, in the first quarter of 2024, Chongqing saw a 4.4-percent growth in fixed-asset investment, with a 16.7-percent growth in industries and 8.5 percent in infrastructure. Retail sales in the municipality also grew by 5.5 percent year-on-year, higher than the national growth rate of 4.7 percent, according to official data.