Shenzhen's tech fair geared towards innovation, but garners mixed reviews from visitors

Machines that cook dinner and have a boogie might sound fun, but visitors to Shenzhen tech fair say there’s little true innovation on show

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 November, 2015, 12:29pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 November, 2015, 2:03pm


With jetpacks and dancing, cooking robots, “smart” was a popular buzzword for exhibitors at this year’s China Hi-Tech Fair. But despite the displays, some visitors complained there was a lack of innovation on show.

The annual fair, the 17th edition of which began in Shenzhen on Monday, is touted as a showcase of the city’s technological innovation over the year.

Smart homes, smart cities, smart manufacturing and smart vehicles were all in the mix, according to the fair’s operator, with some 3,000 exhibitors and 10,000 projects to be displayed over six days.

But many visitors on the first day left feeling somewhat underwhelmed.

“I have to say I’m quite disappointed for the fair – it is still highlighting and showing off robots that can cook and dance, virtual reality glasses, wearable products and smart home devices,” said Liu Ming, a Shenzhen-based IT engineer who has been to every edition of the fair.

“Yes, you can know from the fair that everyone in the tech industry in Shenzhen is turning to invest in such products, drones, industrial robots and smart-home and city projects,” he said.

“But almost all the technologies and ideas you see at the fair are [old] and most of them have been shown so many times at other expos.”

Domestic smart-home devices on show displayed a lack of innovation, said another visitor, Johnny Lee, an industrial designer from Hong Kong.

“The price gap is still the only competitive advantage when comparing with peer products in Japan and US. Few could lead the development of next-generation intelligent manufacturing,” Lee said.

His view echoed recent warnings that China risked missing out on a key role in making next-generation industrial robots as the technology gap with foreign firms widened.

China has been the world’s biggest market for industrial robots since 2013, but none of its 500 or so domestic manufacturers has any distinct competitive advantage when it comes to core technology, according to Luo Jun, CEO of the International Robotics and Intelligent Equipment Industry Alliance, a government think tank that serves the robotics industry. His remarks were reported by mainland media this month.

Even so, many industry insiders are optimistic that Shenzhen, and the country, can grow into a global hub for innovation, particularly given a recent boom in startups.

“Shenzhen is very powerful in innovation…and could even lead innovation in the world,” Dr Liu Ruopeng, the chairman of Kuang-Chi Science, an emerging technology and innovation firm listed on the Hong Kong stock market, said.

“A lot of firms such as Huawei Technologies and ZTE Telecommunications and Tencent started their businesses from zero in Shenzhen to create miracles. Their products and companies are now global and challenge multinationals.”

Liu recently made headlines on the mainland after acquiring a controlling 52 per cent share in a New Zealand company, Martin Aircraft. The company makes the Martin Jetpack, which is being shown at the fair in the centre of the hall.

The jetpack was invented by New Zealander Glenn Martin, who has been dedicated to it since 1981. In tests, the jetpack has carried payloads of up to 120kg and flown at 35km/h at altitudes of 1,500 metres.

If the fair organisers are lucky, it might just give them a boost.