China Hi-Tech Fair highlights virtual reality and smart city solutions as start-ups focus on research, not robots

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 November, 2016, 10:00pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 November, 2016, 10:35pm

Technology projects focused on developing augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), artificial intelligence (AI) and smart city solutions drew the most attention at this year’s China Hi-Tech Fair, while last year’s favourites – robots and drones – faded from the spotlight.

The six-day fair, which began in Shenzhen on Wednesday and is in its 18th year, is touted as a showcase for technological innovation as the country shifts its focus from manufacturing to high-tech research.

Government-backed Shenzhen tech companies focusing on AR, VR and AI development, such as Realis VR Entertainment, Protruly Vision and Royole Corporation, had the most visibility at the fair, which showcases 3,000 exhibitors and 10,000 projects.

The fair also designated an area for “smart city” technology, where companies like ZTE and Huawei promoted smart city solutions for Chinese cities, especially second and third-tier ones, seeking necessary technology to pursue sustainable urbanisation.

Technological innovation is pivotal to strategic economic improvement and deep industrial reform
Xu Qin, Shenzhen mayor

At the opening of the fair senior officials, including Shenzhen Mayor Xu Qin, assistant Minister of Commerce Zhang Ji and academic Lu Yongxiang from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, highlighted innovation as core for the future development of China.

“Technological innovation is pivotal to strategic economic improvement and deep industrial reform,” Xu said. “More effort should be put into exploring how to utilise technological innovation to cultivate new industries, thus realising a sustainable and healthy development of the regional economy.”

Intellifusion Technologies, a Shenzhen startup focused on AI and big data, has this year alone lured subsidies and funds worth more than 40 million yuan from the Shenzhen government and the city’s Longgang district government, according to its founder Chen Yun.

The two-year-old startup with a team of about 50 people was founded by Chen and Tina Dihong, two Chinese PhDs from Georgia Institute of Technology who worked in Silicon Valley up to 2014, before returning to China. The company’s intelligent cameras can recognise a person from the way they walk, or by just seeing a view of their back. The devices can also self-learn just like humans do from constant practice, said Chen.

“The authorities are investing in and supporting the project [in a huge way]. Public security and anti-terrorism are sensitive and important issues to the authorities, so they don’t want to depend on overseas companies,” said Chen.

Starting this month, surveillance cameras in the Longgang district of Shenzhen will be embedded with intelligent chips designed by the company. The chips only need one or two seconds to locate an individual from a database of 300 million people once that person is in view of the camera lens. Every surveillance camera in Shenzhen will have this capability by 2018.

Another company at the fair, Royole Corporation, has developed a flexible, curved display screen with a thickness of about 0.01 mm to 0.1 mm. Earlier this month it announced its latest round of financing of 500 million yuan.

“Backed by the Shenzhen government, Royole is going to invest 10 billion yuan to build an industrial park in Longgang district for manufacturing the flexible display,” said Wang Jing, the company’s marketing manager, adding that construction will be completed in 2017.

“You can see AR, VR and AI becoming popular in the tech industry,” said Liu Ming, a Shenzhen-based IT engineer who goes to the fair every year. “[This year] is much better than last year’s hi-tech fair, which showed off robots that can cook and dance, wearable products and smart home devices.”

Industry executives noted that at last year’s fair every investor and tech manufacturer talked about next-generation consumer robots. “But we found that market was rather depressed in the past few months of this year,” said Wang Gang, a spokesman for Ingdan.com, which provides a one-stop supply-chain platform that links technology start-ups and entrepreneurs with contract electronics manufacturing partners in mainland China.

“Consumers seemed not interested in those consumer robots priced at 1,000 yuan or above. We suggest those startups try to sell their products to second-and-third tired cities priced at about 500 yuan,” Wang said.