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Behind the 540 Dancing Robots: Meet Alpha 1S

The dancing robots were the stars of the night at the CCTV Spring Festival Gala this year. Singer Sun Nan performed with a total of 540 robots at the Guangzhou Gala venue. This is the story behind the act; meet China’s first humanoid robot Alpha 1S.

Manya Koetse

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Dancing robots were the stars of the night at the CCTV Spring Festival Gala this year. Singer Sun Nan performed with a total of 540 robots at the Guangzhou Gala venue. Read about the background of the act and meet China’s first humanoid robot Alpha 1S.

The Alpha 1S became famous overnight after its impressive performance at the   CCTV Gala. It was a case of “ten years of practice for one minute on stage” (“台上一分钟,台下十年功”), says the Tech reporter at China’s news platform Tencent. They spoke with the technical staff behind the robots after the Gala. Chinese Mandopop singer Sun Nan (孙楠) sang the song “Going to the Top” (冲向巅峰) as 540 robots were dancing around him, all doing exact same movements at the exact same time.

Meet Alpha

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The robot is China’s first humanoid smart robot. It belongs to the Alpha robot family (阿尔法家族) and carries the name Alpha 1S. It is a truly made-in-China product, developed by Chinese tech experts and locally produced. The creators of Alpha 1S, Chinese company UBTech (圳市优必选科技有限公司) spent five years and over 50 million RMB (7.6 million US$) to produce their star robot, designed for families. In many respects, Alpha 1S is a pioneering work, especially when it comes to the patented computer system at its core. According to Tencent, its technique “surpasses that of American, European, Japanese and Korean robots.”

One of the reasons why Alpha has such good dancing skills is because it has 16 different joints, giving the robot the freedom to move like a human.

alpha2whatsonweibo.com

His eyes are flickering blue-ray LEDs with sensors. On the evening of the Gala performance, all robots were numbered so that technical staff could control the twinkling of the eyes in every single robot.

The robot’s software is compatible with both Android and IOS mobile systems, and can also be linked to a computer. Users can edit the robot’s programme themselves, which is also possible for people with little knowledge of robots or programming. Even more awesome: you can preview the robot’s movements in a 3D visualisation on the computer, making it easy to edit and change its movements after seeing them on screen. With the Alpha app, it is also possible for owners to programme movements by playing around with their robot; it will then remember the movement sequence. This means you can let the robot dance in whatever way you want (- we cannot get over how cool this is).

The Gala performance

On the night of the Spring Gala, a total of 540 Alpha robots were lined up in a military square-shaped formation, standing in four groups of 9 x 15 robots. The technical staff had programmed the robots with 12 sets of dance steps, all of its movements in line with the rhythm of Sun Nan’s “Going to the Top” and completely in-sync – a Guinness Record.

robotformation

According to Tencent, Alpha 1S was only invited to take part in the Spring Gala one month before Chinese New Year, letting the technical staff, a team of 36 experts, work day and night for an impeccable Gala performance.

alpha3whatsonweibo

In order for the performance to go smoothly, the staff also had to deal with two problems. The first was that the robot originally could only have a maximum distance of 50 meter to the control desk. This distance needed to be bigger for the great Gala venue, for which experts changed the transmitter, making it possible to control the 540 robots within a range of 5000 meter.

Another risk was that colliding robots would result in a possibly disastrous domino effect. But for the camera to properly capture the perfect formation of robots, they still had to be lined up near to each other. The LED lights in the robot’s eyes with sensor were thus programmed to be ultrasensitive to distance and to stay within a 0.6 m x 0.6 m distance.

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Every millisecond of the performance was tested in great detail and practised over and over again to make sure nothing could go wrong on Sunday night, February 6th, during the live show of the Gala.

China’s future

Alpha 1S is China’s first programmable, interactive and affordable robot meant for family entertainment. The features of Alpha 1S are promising and show that much more will be possible in the near future. Alpha’s brother Alpha 2 will be less affordable (around 8000 US$), but can already do much more than dancing; this robot can act as a tutor, translation, personal assistant and help doing household tasks.

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Weibo netizens praised the robots’ Gala performance. One Weibo netizen says that her boss bought the CCTV Gala robot, and that all people in the office put their work down to see the robot dance along to ‘Gangnam Style’.

The Alpha 1S can be bought online. On Taobao, the robot is sold for around 3000 RMB (±450 US$)

alpha4whatsonweibo

On a side note: remarkably, the multiple promotion campaigns for the made-in-China robot does not feature Chinese-looking models – making it seem like an American or European product.  

A woman named Sima comments on Weibo: “What interested most about the CCTV Gala were the robots dancing together with the drones on Sun Nan’s song. It was such a novelty – this is China’s future!”

By Manya Koetse

Images via CCTV screenshots by Whatsonweibo.com and Tencent
Gifs via http://www.wanhuajing.com/d84556

©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

China Brands, Marketing & Consumers

‘Carpet Pacific’: A Timeline of the Cathay Pacific Scandal Through Weibo Hashtags

Cathay Pacific flight attendants mocking non-English speaking passengers by saying, “If you can’t say blanket, you can’t have it,” has sparked a major controversy and caused a marketing catastrophe.

Manya Koetse

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Last week, Xiamen Airlines was the focus of attention on Chinese social media after one of their pilots was caught secretly filming a female staff members in the ladies room. This week, the focus has shifted to Cathay Pacific, as the Hong Kong-based airline faced accusations of discrimination against travelers from mainland China.

The incident gained significant attention on May 22 when a user of the Xiaohongshu (Little Red Book) app shared a public complaint about the Hong Kong airline. In the post, the author, who claimed to have resided in Hong Kong for eleven years, expressed their inability to remain silent after witnessing overt discrimination on a Cathay Pacific CX987 flight from Chengdu to Hong Kong.

The passenger said they were seated near the area where the flight attendants rest and prepare meals, and that they could hear the cabin crew making fun of passengers who could not speak English. Passengers who tried to ask them for help in English about filling out immigration cards allegedly also received impatient responses. The passenger recorded some of their conversation, and later posted the audio clip online.

In one clip, you can hear the staff laughing about a passenger who wanted a blanket but could not properly say it in English. “If you cannot say blanket, you cannot have it,” they joked. Since some passengers allegedly had used the word ‘carpet’ instead of ‘blanket’, the cabin crew can be heard saying: “A carpet is on the floor.”

Since the incident was first exposed on social media, it turned into a major controversy and a marketing crisis for the Cathay Pacific company. As Cathay was condemned by million of netizens, many also vowed to boycott the airline.

Cathay Pacific has been hit hard by the pandemic, and was seeing an increased demand for travel into the Chinese Mainland since quarantine-free travel between Hong Kong the Mainland was finally resumed on January 8 of this year. Cathay is heavily dependent on the Chinese market, and approximately 70% of its revue reportedly comes from China (#国泰航空近七成营收来自中国#).

The incident has ignited anger due to the discriminatory treatment of mainland customers by a Hong Kong company, leading to further discussions on anti-Chinese sentiments in Hong Kong and the role of language in fostering (or hindering) national unity between mainland China and Hong Kong.

This is a timeline of the incident through Weibo hashtags that have gone trending over the past few days.

▶︎ The Cathay Discrimination Audio Leaked Online #国泰空乘歧视乘客录音曝光# (260 million views)

After a netizen posted about supposed discrimination against non-English speaking passengers by cabin crew members on the Cathay Pacific CX987 flight, the incident soon garnered widespread attention on Chinese social media, especially when the 30-second audio was also shared online (hear the audio snippet here).

▶︎ Cathay Pacific Apologizes #国泰航空致歉# (210 million views)

On May 22, Cathay Pacific soon issued a response apologizing for the passenger’s experience and promised a thorough investigation. However, their initial apology was considered inadequate by many netizens, and only sparked more debates about the discrimination against mainland Chinese passengers within Cathay’s work environment.

On May 23, Cathay Pacific issued a second apology via social channels, mentioning that they had contacted the passenger and that they had suspended the flight attendants involved.

▶︎ Cathay Pacific Uses Standard Mandarin to Apologize #国泰航空行政总裁用普通话道歉# (10 million views)

Lin Shaobo apologizes using Standard Mandarin, image via Weibo.com.

During a media briefing in Guangzhou on May 24, Cathay Pacific CEO Lin Shaobo (林绍波) once again expressed his sincere apologies on behalf of Cathay for the incident. In doing so, he used Standard Mandarin, the national language of mainland China.

▶︎ Three Employers Fired for Discriminating Against Passengers #国泰航空3名歧视乘客空乘被解聘# (460 million views)

At this time, it was also announced that Cathay had completed their investigation into the matter and, in accordance with the company’s regulations, had dismissed the three involved cabin crew members. Lin Shaobo clarified that the airline maintains a “zero tolerance” approach towards any employees who violate the company’s rules and ethical standards.

▶︎ Cathay Pacific’s Flight Attendant Union Regrets the Incident #国泰空乘工会对空姐被解聘感到遗憾# (180 million views)

On May 24, there was some online turmoil over a statement issued by Cathay Pacific’s Flight Attendant Union (FAU). In the statement, the union expressed that Cathay is “facing a shortage of both manpower and resources, a significant increase in workload and low salaries.” Because these problems are ignored, Cathay is seeing an “extremely low” morale among cabin crew and more complaints regarding cabin service. “Nothing comes from nothing,” the statement said. The Union was criticized for “whitewashing” the cabin crew’s discrimination against non-English-speakers.

▶︎ No Official Support for The Union #国泰航空称空中服务员工会不代表国泰# (130 million views)

On May 25, Cathay Pacific issued a statement in which they clarified that The Union is an independent labor union and does not represent the company. They also clarified that did not support the union’s position nor agreed with it.

▶︎ Hu Xijin Recommends Mainland Passengers to Speak Mandarin #胡锡进建议乘国泰航空只讲普通话# (910,000 views)

Chinese political & social commentator Hu Xijin (@胡锡进) also responded to the Cathay incident in multiple posts. In one of them, he suggested that mainland passengers should primarily speak Mandarin when they fly Cathay in the future. Since so much of their customer base is from mainland, Cathay should have enough cabin crew speaking Mandarin, he argued. Hu also reflected on how Cathay also caused controversy in 2019, when it would not stop staff from joining the Kong Kong pro-democracy protests. According to Hu, the company should pay attention to “correcting the values” of their employees.

▶︎”Leaked” Internal Email Labeled as Fake News #国泰航空称网传英文内部信件为伪造# (77 million views)

Post by Cathay in which they deny that this “leaked memo” is authentic. Screenshot by What’s on Weibo.

In the meantime, some images circulated online that allegedly showed an internal Cathay Pacific memo by the company’s HK Express CEO Mandy Ng in which a warning was issued to be “cautious when engaging with customers from China and be aware of their media culture.” That memo was labeled as being false by Cathay Pacific.

▶︎ Hong Kong Perfomer Condemns Cathay for Incident #香港演员怒斥国泰空乘歧视乘客# (170 million views)

Hong Kong celebrity Maria Cordero, nicknamed ‘Fat Mama’ (肥妈) went trending on Weibo for condemning the Cathay Pacific crew members in a recent interview. “Is speaking English that important?” she wondered: “The whole world is learning Chinese!” She also expressed that the primary duty of flight attendants is to look after passengers and help solve their problems. If they are incapable of fulfilling their duty, they should be sacked.

▶︎ Blankets for Everyone #旅客称现在国泰的航班挨个发毛毯# (6.5 million views)

According to passengers flying Cathay after the ‘blanket incident,’ the cabin crew went around explicitly asking all passengers if they needed any blankets, making announcements in English, Mandarin, and Cantonese.

▶︎ Follow-up to the Incident #国泰航空空乘歧视乘客后续# (26 million views)

As the Cathay scandal keeps fermenting online, one commenter expressed a common viewpoint by stating: “If Cathay Pacific is so unwilling to serve Chinese people and they refuse to speak Mandarin, why don’t they clearly state that they don’t welcome Chinese passengers? They can’t have it both ways by earning money from Chinese tickets without providing the same level of service.”

Meanwhile, an online meme has gained popularity, depicting ‘Cathay Pacific’ as ‘Carpet Pacific’ in reference to the controversial comments made by the cabin crew.

Other memes include the quote: “If you cannot say blanket, you cannot have it,” or include the phrase “no zuo no die” – a popular internet meme that basically means ‘what goes around comes around.’

Those flying China Southern Airlines or Eastern Airlines are posting about their warm on-board blankets, joking: “I didn’t even have to say ‘blanket’ and still got it!”

By Manya Koetse

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©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China and Covid19

Repurposing China’s Abandoned Nucleic Acid Booths: 10 Innovative Transformations

Abandoned nucleic acid booths are getting a second life through these new initiatives.

Manya Koetse

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During the pandemic, nucleic acid testing booths in Chinese cities were primarily focused on maintaining physical distance. Now, empty booths are being repurposed to bring people together, serving as new spaces to serve the community and promote social engagement.

Just months ago, nucleic acid testing booths were the most lively spots of some Chinese cities. During the 2022 Shanghai summer, for example, there were massive queues in front of the city’s nucleic acid booths, as people needed a negative PCR test no older than 72 hours for accessing public transport, going to work, or visiting markets and malls.

The word ‘hésuān tíng‘ (核酸亭), nucleic acid booth (also:核酸采样小屋), became a part of China’s pandemic lexicon, just like hésuān dìtú (核酸地图), the nucleic acid test map lauched in May 2022 that would show where you can get a nucleic test.

Example of nucleic acid test map.

During Halloween parties in Shanghai in 2022, some people even came dressed up as nucleic test booths – although local authorities could not appreciate the creative costume.

Halloween 2022: dressed up as nucliec acid booths. Via @manyapan twitter.

In December 2022, along with the announced changed rules in China’s ‘zero Covid’ approach, nucleic acid booths were suddenly left dismantled and empty.

With many cities spending millions to set up these booths in central locations, the question soon arose: what should they do with the abandoned booths?

This question also relates to who actually owns them, since the ownership is mixed. Some booths were purchased by authorities, others were bought by companies, and there are also local communities owning their own testing booths. Depending on the contracts and legal implications, not all booths are able to get a new function or be removed yet (Worker’s Daily).

In Tianjin, a total of 266 nucleic acid booths located in Jinghai District were listed for public acquisition earlier this month, and they were acquired for 4.78 million yuan (US$683.300) by a local food and beverage company which will transform the booths into convenience service points, selling snacks or providing other services.

Tianjin is not the only city where old nucleic acid testing booths are being repurposed. While some booths have been discarded, some companies and/or local governments – in cooperation with local communities – have demonstrated creativity by transforming the booths into new landmarks. Since the start of 2023, different cities and districts across China have already begun to repurpose testing booths. Here, we will explore ten different way in which China’s abandoned nucleic test booths get a second chance at a meaningful existence.

 

1: Pharmacy/Medical Booths

Via ‘copyquan’ republished on Sohu.

Blogger ‘copyquan’ recently explored various ways in which abandoned PCR testing points are being repurposed.

One way in which they are used is as small pharmacies or as medical service points for local residents (居民医疗点). Alleviating the strain on hospitals and pharmacies, this was one of the earliest ways in which the booths were repurposed back in December of 2022 and January of 2023.

Chongqing, Tianjin, and Suzhou were among earlier cities where some testing booths were transformed into convenient medical facilities.

 

2: Market Stalls

Market stalls instead of nucliec acid testing booths. Image via Sina.

In Suzhou, Jiangsu province, the local government transformed vacant nucleic acid booths into market stalls for the Spring Festival in January 2022, offering them free of charge to businesses to sell local products, snacks, and traditional New Year goods.

The idea was not just meant as a way for small businesses to conveniently sell to local residents, it was also meant as a way to attract more shoppers and promote other businesses in the neighborhood.

 

3: Community Service Center

Small grid community center in Shizhuang Village, image via Sohu.

Some residential areas have transformed their local nucleic acid testing booths into community service centers, offering all kinds of convenient services to neighborhood residents.

These little station are called wǎnggé yìzhàn (网格驿站) or “grid service stations,” and they can serve as small community centers where residents can get various kinds of care and support.

 

4: “Refuel” Stations

In February of this year, 100 idle nucleic acid sampling booths were transformed into so-called “Rider Refuel Stations” (骑士加油站) in Zhejiang’s Pinghu. Although it initially sounds like a place where delivery riders can fill up their fuel tanks, it is actually meant as a place where they themselves can recharge.

Delivery riders and other outdoor workers can come to the ‘refuel’ station to drink some water or tea, warm their hands, warm up some food and take a quick nap.

 

5: Free Libraries

image via sohu.

In various Chinese cities, abandoned nucleic acid booths have been transformed into little free libraries where people can grab some books to read, donate or return other books, and sit down for some reading.

Changzhou is one of the places where you’ll find such “drifting bookstores” (漂流书屋) (see video), but similar initiatives have also been launched in other places, including Suzhou.

 

6: Study Space

Photos via Copyquan’s article on Sohu.

Another innovative way in which old testing points are being repurposed is by turning them into places where students can sit together to study. The so-called “Let’s Study Space” (一间习吧), fully airconditioned, are opened from 8 in the morning until 22:00 at night.

Students – or any citizens who would like a nice place to study – can make online reservations with their ID cards and scan a QR code to enter the study rooms.

There are currently ten study booths in Anji, and the popular project is an initiative by the Anji County Library in Zhejiang (see video).

 

7: Beer Kiosk

Hoegaarden beer shop, image via Creative Adquan.

Changing an old nucleic acid testing booth into a beer bar is a marketing initiative by the Shanghai McCann ad agency for the Belgium beer brand Hoegaarden.

The idea behind the bar is to celebrate a new spring after the pandemic. The ad agency has revamped a total of six formr nucleic acid booths into small Hoegaarden ‘beer gardens.’

 

8: Police Box

In Taizhou City, Jiangsu Province, authorities have repurposed old testing booths and transformed them into ‘police boxes’ (警务岗亭) to enhance security and improve the visibility of city police among the public.

Currently, a total of eight vacant nucleic acid booths have been renovated into modern police stations, serving as key points for police presence and interaction with the community.

 

9: Lottery Ticket Booths

Image via The Paper

Some nucleic acid booths have now been turned into small shops selling lottery tickets for the China Welfare Lottery. One such place turning the kiosks into lottery shops is Songjiang in Shanghai.

Using the booths like this is a win-win situation: they are placed in central locations so it is more convenient for locals to get their lottery tickets, and on the other hand, the sales also help the community, as the profits are used for welfare projects, including care for the elderly.

 

10: Mini Fire Stations

Micro fire stations, images via ZjNews.

Some communities decided that it would be useful to repurpose the testing points and turn them into mini fire kiosks, just allowing enough space for the necessary equipment to quickly respond to fire emergencies.

Want to read more about the end of ‘zero Covid’ in China? Check our other articles here.

By Manya Koetse,

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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