Beijing prepares for imminent rise of humanoid robots

Mass production of C-3POs pitched for 2025

Beijing is issuing guidelines on the development of humanoid robots with the lofty goal of mass producing the technology by 2025 and having a reliable supply chain by 2027.

Humanoid robots are touted to become the next disruptive thing after computers, smartphones and new energy vehicles as they integrate artificial intelligence, high-end manufacturing and new materials, according to China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), which said as much last Thursday.

The ministry then outlined major goals within its "Guiding Opinions on the Innovation and Development of Humanoid Robots."

The first is to have technological breakthroughs that ensure the safe and effective supply of core components for mass-producing androids, complete with governance a few globally competitive companies and a cluster of related enterprises and development hubs by 2025.

Beijing’s other goal is to have a safe and reliable industrial humanoid robot supply chain by 2027.

The guidelines reduce the engineering feat of designing manufacturable human-like robots into three components: the brain, the cerebellum, and the limbs.

The brain will lean into large AI models for environmental perception, behavioral control, human-machine interactions and integration to cloud and edge devices. The cerebellum segment – at least as outlined by the government department – is to do with the controls of robotic movements through an algorithm library and network control system architecture, with special industry-specific simulation and training available.

The "limbs" category relies on more classic robotics – dexterous hands, lightweight materials, high precision sensing, bionic transmission mechanisms, long lasting batteries, and energy management solutions.

To improve upon classic robotics, the guidelines call for research of several areas, such as operating in harsh environments, creating sensors that detect smell, and high power density hydraulic servo actuators breakthroughs.

To mass produce android robots within one to two years' time is an ambitious goal, especially given the current state of large AI models and how heavily Beijing's android vision relies on the technology. The still young technology can be expected to be clumsy, an inevitability that has caused most countries to approach it with caution.

If the current state of the most popular subset of large AI models, Large Language Models (LLMs), is any indication, the Middle Kingdom is no exception on having a need to refine the technology.

After all, humanoid robot development remains in the domain of NASA and other intense research operations, far from the manufacturing lines of mass production.

Undeniably, the demand for robots is on the rise, as is demand for the subset that interacts with humans. According to the International Federation of Robots, the demand for service robots grew 48 percent year on year in 2022, thanks to a shortage of skilled workers and a lack of staff.

But most robots still exist in unseen places as industrial robots, not in any way mimicking human form with Asia carrying the lion's share of that demand. ®

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