Drone maker DJI made drones, once a high-end toy for rich niche hobbyists, into a mainstream consumer product. Begun 10 years ago in a college dorm room, the company now controls 70% of the consumer drone market. Xu Huabin, Vice President of the Shenzhen-based tech firm, explains how the company’s product-driven philosophy helped the firm grow from a maker of model planes to become the world’s largest commercial unmanned aircraft manufacturer. He also discusses DJI’s future plans for diversification and industrialization—to go beyond only making drones with cameras to developing drones with industry-tailored features for diverse customers including engineers and farmers.
Silicon Valley may hog the artificial intelligence (AI) limelight, but Chinese companies are catching up by implementing AI technologies in real life. According to a McKinsey Global Institute research report, China is one of the leading global hubs of AI development and its advantages include the vast population and a diverse industry mix that has the potential to generate huge volumes of the data needed to feed AI systems. That population not only provides an enormous market for AI-related products, but also, with the large number of internet users, about 731 million, China generates more data than most other countries—a key to AI innovation.
The fourth industrial revolution (4IR) is “a fusion of technologies” that blurs the lines “between the physical, digital, and biological spheres,” according to Klaus Schwab, the founder of the Davos Forum. This fusion of so many fields will ultimately see 4IR change the world far more fundamentally than the first three industrial revolutions. Any analysis of the many technological breakthroughs that now define this new 4IR business world is incomplete at best if it misses the China factor. At the dawn of the 4IR era, China is much better positioned than in the past to seize the opportunities offered by an industrial transformation.
As people imagine the future of transportation, the first thing they think of is driverless cars. There are still many questions to consider, however, and not just at the level of personal safety. How will transportation networks adapt? What about laws and regulations? What will be the impact on logistics and employment? Many technology firms and automakers have had their prototypes, but none which could be commercialized for public use. Wu Gansha, a veteran engineer and former director of Intel Labs China, suggests a rapid way to commercialize driverless cars. He claims that the car produced by his startup will commercialize in two years.
The Chinese internet industry has developed at an amazing speed with a number of tech firms becoming “unicorns” worldwide. A major force behind those fast-growing companies and young CEOs is the venture capital firms who play a crucial role in spotting and supporting innovative models. Over the past 10 years, VC has evolved from a non-mainstream form of finance to one of the hottest areas in the Middle Kingdom. Ramon Zeng, with a number of successful investments in “unicorns”, talks about his observation of the industry and what the next big trend will be.
Chinese people love to try new technologies. Over the past year, virtual reality exploded across the country, attracting attention as well as investment from people who see a potential wave of the future: Analysts predict that China’s VR market will be worth $8.5 billion by 2020. But the real-world business of VR, which surged largely on the back of heavy investment, is less solid than it could be. Some people expect the technology to bring revolutionary changes to many industries like gaming, films and shopping but currently a huge portion of the VR market is still for video games and the business model is not yet solidly defined.
Most of us have heard that the secrets of our lives are hidden in our genes. As the technology advances, genetic tests have become common in certain situations, such as prenatal tests and medical treatment. Also, from genetic test results, professionals can read things like your personality, talent and health risks. Many Chinese companies, though with no intention of becoming “fortune tellers”, are luring people to do genetic tests and offer easy-to-read talent results–and public demand is running high. Startups are receiving millions in funds for making this technology accessible to ordinary people. But is the model of selling cheap genetic testing services sustainable? And are these tests accurate?
Bitcoin, a virtual currency traded online, was not invented in China, yet China is where 80% of the virtual “coins” are minted and 90% of the transactions are made. Currently, the global bitcoin market amounts to some $14.5 billion, roughly the same amount of money as Apple’s European back taxes. If the virtual currency’s popularity continues to grow, decisions made by Chinese investors and regulators may determine whether bitcoin fades to a historical footnote, like Napster or the eight-track tape, or becomes the silicon cornerstone of a new global financial order. A combination of factors thrust China into this decisive role.
Baidu, China’s largest internet search engine, is having a hard time after a college student named Wei Zexi died after mistaking an advertisement on Baidu for an experimental cancer treatment for medically reliable information. Baidu was then accused of being “unethical”, failing to clearly delineate paid advertisements from search results. Months later, the Nasdaq listed company reported its worst quarterly earnings. With the increased competition from domestic players like Tencent and Alibaba and the downward pressure on online advertising, which contributes to over 90% of Baidu’s revenue, it is crucial for Baidu to diversify its business.
One could be forgiven for thinking that after purchasing Uber’s China operations, Didi Chuxing—which now boasts over 300 million users and over 80% of China’s market—would be on easy street. But things are never that simple in the Chinese market. Figures have shown Didi is losing users and drivers. Under strict Chinese local governments’ new policies, Didi may face bigger challenges than Uber China. Meanwhile more people cast doubts over its business model. Boasting a sharing economy model, car-pooling, the company now relies more on providing car-hailing services with prices lower than taxis to maintain its scale. Once the subsidies withdrew, users walk away.