Lei Jun advises bigger official role in developing humanoid robots

The developments and breakthroughs in humanoid robotics will be a strategic commanding height in socioeconomic development and international tech competition, the 53-year-old tech mogul said.

China should support its robotic entrepreneurial ecosystem and strive to achieve breakthroughs in cores technologies of bionic humanoid robots, said Xiaomi’s founder on the eve of the country’s annual gathering of top lawmakers and political advisors.

Lei Jun, founder, chairman and CEO of internet giant Xiaomi, told National Business Daily that Xiaomi has made efforts in self-developed chip, AI, imaging and smart manufacturing over the past few years.

The delegate to National People’s Congress, China’s top legislature, added Xiaomi has also actively started building robots.

The company released its humanoid robot CyberOne on August 11, 2022, the first of its kind from Xiaomi Robotics Lab.

Since then, the Hong Kong-listed titan has showcased the contraption on several occasions, including at the recently closed MWC 2023 in Barcelona.

Xiaomi’s entry into the space coincided with Tesla’s debut of AI-robot “Optimus,” which Elon Musk said may outnumber humans in the future as it is able to replicate itself.

It also came around the time of the IPO application by UBTech (优必选), one of the domestic pioneers of robotic humanoids.

Amid a spurt of industrial frenzy around the gadget, which used to be a target of ridicule in the eyes of industry veterans like Dr. Kaifu Lee, Xiaomi’s foray will likely spark enthusiasm and encourage more firms to follow suit.

Lei’s remarks in the interview with NBD testify to his high hopes for the industry to prosper.

In one of the three draft bills he submitted as a NPC deputy this year, Lei stressed the implications of humanoid robotics for other industries.

According to him, humanoid robot is a complicated dynamical system featuring rigid-flexible coupling and close correlation with emerging sectors like autonomous driving.

The developments and breakthroughs in humanoid robotics will be a strategic commanding height in socioeconomic development and international tech competition, the 53-year-old tech mogul said.

Globally, developed nations have steadily made inroads in multiple domains related to bionic humanoid robots in recent years, paying increasing attention to issues such as improvement to core parts as well as infusion of robotic and emerging technologies, he noted.

Lei is a serial entrepreneur and one of China’s most charismatic corporate leaders, having presided over a rags-to-riches story as Xiaomi transitioned from an obscure manufacturer of low-end, inexpensive wearables to a diversified conglomerate producing home appliances, smartphones and AIoT gizmos. Xiaomi even announced it will branch out into EV making.

Often christened China’s answer to Steve Jobs, Lei is an avid supporter of national industrial policies conducive to the overall tech ecosystem.

In his opinion, China’s humanoid robot space so far lacks a systemic industrial development plan and an action guideline.

Lei therefore called on officials to support players from this ecosystem, advance the layout of an industrial plan, and devise supporting policies and measures.

In addition, he also suggested drafting data security regulations, standards and protocol, so as to better allocate innovative resources and spur the humanoid robot industry in an all-round manner.

Optimization of core parts and the gap between technologies and applications are among a series of conundrums confronting domestic robot developers.

To address this problem, Lei believes that official support should be granted to large robot unit makers to spearhead a national-level alliance.

Such an alliance will enable a handful of market incumbents to drive the growth of followers and lead concerted efforts to achieve breakthroughs as part of a long-term innovation scheme.

He encouraged industry organizations to create open-source general-purpose platforms for the application of humanoid robot. Adoption of this device has long been encumbered by high costs, which could be offset in part by such a platform, he explained.

Efforts should also go toward finding application scenarios in smart manufacturing and senior care for human-shaped robots, he added.

Aside from his counsel on robotics, Lei also submitted another two proposals concerning car data safety management and promotion of car culture in China.

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Ni Tao

Ni Tao is the founder and editor-in-chief of cnrobopedia. Prior to cnrobopedia, he had a full decade of experience with a major state-run English-language newspaper as a tech reporter and opinion writer. He is also a communications specialist, having provided consultancy services to established firms like Siemens, Philips, ABinBev, Diageo, Trip.com Group (Nasdaq: TCOM, HK: 9961), Jianpu Technology (NYSE: JT) and a handful of domestic startups. A graduate of Fudan University, he writes widely about China's business and tech scenes and other topics for global publications including South China Morning Post, SupChina, The Diplomat, CGTN, Banking Technology, among others, and tries to impart his experience to students at Fudan University Journalism School, where he is a part-time lecturer. When he's not writing about robotics, you can expect him to be on his beloved Yanagisawa saxophones, trying to play some jazz riffs, often in vain and occasionally against the protests of an angry neighbor. Get in touch with him by dropping a line at nitao0927@gmail.com.

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