Tag Archives: tech

Shenzhen’s Huaqiangbei: The Electronic Megamarket.

News and Travel Editor

Welcome to Huaqiangbei: The world’s biggest electronics market. Booths are crammed in over 10 floors and each one represents a factory close by. From smartphones and drones to circuit boards and security systems, if it’s electronic, I can guarantee you’ll be able to find it here. If you can’t find the finished product, don’t worry, there are so many components on sale, you’ll be able to make it from scratch.

It’s not the usual scenic attraction we might talk about on China Icons so why visit? Huaqiangbei is renowned for its vast range of products as well its speed and efficiency in producing them. Plus we were in town with a shopping list – a drone and some circuit boards. This is both geek heaven and the place to stock up on all the gadgets you wish you had.

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Its location in Shenzhen, rather than Beijing or Shanghai, reveals something fascinating about the modern history of China. Until 1979, Shenzhen was nothing more than a sleepy fishing port with a population of around 30,000. That year, Shenzhen became a ‘Special Economic Zone’, becoming China’s first experiment in capitalism. ‘SEZs’ were the brainchild of Deng Xiaoping, China’s leader at the time, who wanted to cement China’s place as a global economic powerhouse. They were designed to encourage foreign investment and this meant that zones such as Shenzhen would have different trade and business laws compared to the rest of the country.

Fast forward to today and the population has leaped to 10-15 million (the exact figure is unknown because of the shifting patterns of migrant workers), a larger population than London, Rio de Janeiro, Paris, New York and Washington D.C.. Economically, Shenzhen has undeniably flourished, with its GDP growing from 1.96 million RMB in 1979 to 1.95 trillion RMB today.

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This immense growth and rapid expansion turned Shenzhen into a haven for hardware and electronic startups. Huaqiangbei is simply one of Shenzhen’s most prominent examples of this.

Some of the famous ‘startups’ that call Shenzhen home include world-renowned drone-makers, DJI; BYD, famous for electric cars and having the world’s largest electric bus fleet; telecom giants, Huawei; and the owners of WeChat, Tencent, now worth over $200 billion. Many of these companies were founded in the 1990s during Shenzhen’s economic boom. DJI’s story is more impressive still. Founded in 2006, DJI have snapped up around 70% of the drone market, way ahead of the nearest rival, French firm Parrot.

The next big company to come out of China and dominate the international market may well come out of one of the tiny stalls in the vast Huaqiangbei electronic markets.

So what can you expect to see? Each floor has its own dedicated speciality, from motors, batteries and circits on one floor, to smart phones, drones, TVs, security systems and laptops on the others.

But you’ll still find a bit of everything on each floor. The challenge is giving yourself enough time to look round to make sure you get the best deal.

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So how did I get on? Sadly I didn’t follow my own advice and purchased a mini-drone far too early for 350 RMB ($50). I found a similar one later for just over half the price at 180 RMB ($25). A great reminder that there’s always room for a bit of bargaining and negotiation. If you play your cards right, buying here will almost certainly be worth your while. The custom-made circuit boards we were after were delivered the next day for half the price we would have expected to pay outside of China.

Make no mistake, Shenzhen continues to grow. The city is covered in building sites and there are plans to make Shenzhen one of the greenest cities on earth.

Fancy knowing more about Shenzhen’s history and how it is competing with the likes of Silicon Valley? The documentary visits some of the city’s startups and takes you through the electronics market, showcasing exactly what you can buy there.

 

China’s Robotic Revolution

Features Editor

Remember Jia Jia?   Sure you do – she’s the one with the glassy eyes and the stern face, who keeps popping up on your social media feeds.  No, this is not your ex-girlfriend from hell.  This is China’s latest innovation in artificial intelligence, and has been hailed as the first interactive robot.

We blogged on these pages not long ago about China’s technological advances – from FAST, the world’s largest radio telescope, to Solar Valley, where 95% of the new buildings in Dezhou City are powered by renewables.

I knew it would only be a matter of time before we would once again be talking tech.

So back to Jia Jia.  Jia Jia is a humanoid robot who can talk – she refers to her creators as ‘Lord’ – can make different facial expressions and moves her arms.  She was developed over a mere 3 year period by a team at the University of Science and Technology in Hefei, who plan to expand her emotional repertoire to laughing and crying.  Right now, in our humble opinion, she looks like she’s had way too much botox and needs a sense of humour transplant, but that’s exactly where her creators intend to go next – giving robots learning abilities and facial recognition so that their interactions with us mere mortals can become more natural.

But why exactly does Jia Jia exist and should we be worried?

Firstly, forget the end-of the-world films you’ve seen where robots seek to dominate the human race and take over the world.  Sure there are serious ethical dilemmas to be considered – one expert believes that we could be marrying robots by 2050 – but behind the scenes and in less glamorous areas of life than our love-life, we already rely on robots and that will only increase, especially in China.

Last year, China unveiled a national 10 year plan, known as ‘Made in China 2025’ focusing on making its manufacturing industry the best in the world.  Robotics is one of 10 industries specifically mentioned in the plan.

That’s because, although China is already the world’s largest market for robotics, the robots are predominantly used in the automotive industry only.  The city of Wuhu for example is tipped to become the first to truly embrace driverless cars.

But other areas of industry are yet to catch up and that’s when the big boost in robotics will come  – when robots are used in everything from creating home appliances to pharmaceuticals.  One newspaper recently reported how in one factory, 9 robotics now do the job of 140 fulltime workers with the company reportedly seeking more ways to replace humans with robots.

These robots, with their more mundane appearances and jobs won’t hit the headlines in the same way as Jia Jia.  And I doubt Jia Jia with her good looks and language skills will be joining them in operating a production line anytime soon.  As David Bisset, former head of Dyson explains, the primary role of humanoid robots like Jia Jia is to make us pay attention and be amused

Nevertheless I continue to be fascinated by China’s development in robots with artificial intelligence and here’s my favourite example – Beijing’s Robot Monk.

Standing at 2 foot tall and called Xian’er, this robot was developed by monks at Beijing’s 500 year old Longquan Buddist Temple to answer questions about Buddhism and the meaning of life for a 21st century audience.

But does Xian’er or Jia Jia know how to clean my house or make me the perfect cup of Chinese tea?  Apparently the computer says no.

China’s Smart Glasses

News and Travel Editor

China is famous for inventions. Gunpowder, paper, printing and the marine compass are often regarded as the four great inventions of Ancient China. Kites, umbrellas, toilet paper and ketchup are some less well-known examples of Chinese innovation.

In this week’s upload, we are joined by tech and travel blogger Hyper Trypsy as he investigates the latest invention-making waves in the tech scene in China and around the world, augmented reality glasses. Hyper Trypsy is invited to explore Beijing based tech company Alto Tech and try on their Cool Glasses.

The glasses will cost between $280 and $430, much cheaper than other Augmented Reality glasses on the market. The wearable tech allows you to text, make calls, navigate, take photos and even record HD video. A touchpad on the side allows users to control the device by swiping through an interface displayed on the screen. The glasses can also be controlled using voice recognition.

What’s the future for augmented reality and wearable tech? Alto Tech believe that their affordable headsets will make what once seemed a novelty become essential to everyday life. Imagine  being able to read recipes as you cook, get directions whilst taking in the views and record a special moment without watching it through a screen. Hyper Trypsy puts the glasses to the test on the Great Wall of China and gives us his verdict. Would you want them on your next trip? Let us know in the comments below!

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