Innovation Links Global Cities

Nov 25, 2016 1:30:00 PM / by Stephanie Sadler

“Connecting Global Cities” is a monthly column written by Colin Speakman, Resident Director for CAPA Shanghai.

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We know that the world is changing fast. 

Perhaps few places are changing faster than "my" Shanghai - a huge transformation of the new East part of the city that is known as Pudong from warehouses, wetlands and wasteland in the 1990s into the picture postcard of China's Economic miracle this decade.

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Photo: CAPA students and Resident Director Colin Speakman in the economic capital, Shanghai

While this has clearly impacted on, and in some ways transformed, the lives of locals, the reach of some changes has been much further and arguably global in impact. Shanghai, out of China's many mega-cities, is the one with the highest immigrant population from elsewhere in the mainland; the opportunity to study in Shanghai's famous universities and then stay and apply the talents and skills learned in order to contribute to China's "City of Experiment", as it is known, is one factor. Equally, many more basic, essential workers have been needed in construction, retail, transportation and everything else required to keep a city of 25 million going.

Shanghai has taken the lead in bringing foreign talents to China and pioneered special, simplified and more generous visa provisions, especially for companies in Shanghai's Pilot China Free Trade Zone. A key element in much of this, whether it be foreign or local talents, is the need for future focused, tech-savvy types to spur innovation and help meet the government's goal of moving from "Made in China to Created in China". If successful, many of these innovations will change our lifestyles globally, just like the innovators of California's Silicon Valley have done in the US, exporting the concepts to much of the world. 

oracle-1194372_1280.jpgPhoto: Silicon Valley (public domain)

I got a personal insight this month into the cooperation in innovation globally, with a visit (as part of a China Foreign Experts group) to Hefei, the capital of Anhui Province and a key player in the economic mega region known as the Yangtze River Delta, led by Shanghai. Hefei, a rapidly expanding city of 8 million, is designated as a National Innovation Pilot City.

Among the innovations that will change many people’s lives were artificial intelligent robots produced by iFLYTEK Co Ltd, a Hefei-based smart voice enterprise. I saw that cutting-edge voice recognition technology can help effortlessly control appliances in our homes and give instructions to our cars, which allow hands to focus on driving. I learned that the vehicle applications will also be adopted and used by Germany's Mercedes Benz. Drones will enable rapid targeted deliveries of many items including urgent supplies to inner cities and rural areas alike and this technology is simultaneously being introduced around the world. There are so many examples, but I won’t drone on.

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Photo: An artificial intelligence robot 

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Photo: The drones

Innovation in Biosciences will bring improved healthcare globally. A disease that is far too prevalent in many advanced societies, including in China, could soon be much easier to manage. Diabetes requiring several injections daily could be treated by a simple pill taken three times a week. This was created in Hefei, China and is being tested in medical research in the US. In the local Sinobioway biochemical company linked with Peking University, T-cell research promises a treatment for Leukaemia by fluid injection which has already been successfully used to treat a Russian girl. The research is a joint venture with Baylor University, Texas, in the US.

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Photo: Biosciences incubator

Automotive companies in Shanghai and Hefei are destined to make a significant contribution to the design and production of eco-friendly electric cars in the future. JAC is one of several companies pioneering innovation and is going to cooperate with Germany's Volkswagen. This model is a car owned and driven by China’s President Xi – a great role model. I think it is a bit more economical than the car used by the US President! Of course, in our cities we do not just want pollution-free transport, we want to be safe. At Tsinghua University’s Hefei-based Public Safety Institute, I saw a wide range of innovative technology that will improve response to major accidents and natural disasters through state-of-the-art communications. I learned that research and development in these areas bring together with this institute leading universities in the US, London and Tokyo, among others. A great example of global cooperation.

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Photo: JAC electric car

Not all innovation around the world is being carried out in large investment projects. The small business innovator and entrepreneur has a role to play. Even in China with a tradition of state sector jobs for life, the famous “iron rice bowl”, leaders are encouraging new graduates to start their own business in the creative industries. Back in Shanghai, CAPA has connections with Naked Hub, an example of an expanding chain of incubator facilities that provide flexible working space, networking opportunities to share expertise and affordable rents to get started. In another connection, in the innovative M50 Art District, our students have interned in a creative furniture design company.

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Photo: Naked Hub

Of course, such support for innovation and the incubator concept is developing globally. When I was last in London to visit the CAPA center, I saw creative hub support for innovative product design and retail sales nestled among the major shopping malls. Transformation of working lives and leisure lives will go hand in hand with innovation. Global cities are driving the links and the technology transfer. Yes, innovation is competitive by nature, but globalization is encouraging cooperation. It is part of the phenomenon of the development of global cities.

Photo: Retail hub, London

Thanks Colin!

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Topics: Global Cities