Shanghai Free Trade Zone 7 years on / Reforms and Innovation

'AIsland' pushes firms to spearhead innovation

By HE WEI |  China Daily |  Updated:2020-08-31

Shanghai's Zhangjiang Artificial Intelligence Island is stepping up efforts to explore innovative application scenarios by encouraging industry leaders to empower smaller companies in a bid to jointly foster the entire AI industrial chain.

The AI island, known as "AIsland" (a portmanteau), covers an area of 66,000 square meters in central Zhangjiang Science City. Over the past two years, it has lured in multiple top-end enterprises that specialize in AI, big data, cloud computing, blockchain and other cutting-edge technologies.

The Zhangjiang AIsland is designed to incubate real application scenarios, such as autonomous driving, smart healthcare, and smart urban life, for R&D and testing.

US tech giants IBM, Microsoft, as well as Alibaba's unit that develops chips for cloud and edge computing, have settled down on the AIsland.

IBM describes edge computing as "a distributed computing framework that brings enterprise applications closer to data sources such as IoT (internet of things) devices or local edge servers".

Sequoia Capital also opened its first industry incubation center in China on the AIsland in early July.

"Zhangjiang has the foundation to expand this island into a bigger zone. The innovative atmosphere on the AIsland will have a positive impact on the entire central Zhangjiang to potentially make it the biggest test area in urban settings," said Yuan Tao, chairman of Zhangjiang Group.

This year, Zhangjiang is aiming to build an AI empowerment center, so as to provide a platform for companies to exchange information, share resources and reach potential partnerships for integrated development.

Such efforts are not only supporting faster growth of small innovation-driven companies in Pudong but also allowing companies like Microsoft and its global partners to connect to the China market more quickly.

On the AIsland, Microsoft's AI and IoT lab teams up with robot maker TMiRob to apply the latest AI technologies in the latter's product development by continuously optimizing AI algorithms.

Earlier this year, TMiRob caught the headlines by sending its disinfecting robots and ward robots to hospitals in Wuhan to help control the coronavirus outbreak.

Pan Jing, CEO of TMiRob, said that by working with Microsoft, it is now constantly upgrading its products to cater to the needs of different scenarios.

"Microsoft's lab hopes to penetrate into different industries in Pudong. We focus on biomedicine, integrated circuits, smart manufacturing, and smart finance," said Zhu Lin, director of AI innovation strategy for Microsoft's China division.

Also on the AIsland is Neolix, a self-driving logistics startup that deploys autonomous vehicles to serve food products as non-contact food delivery is supposed to help reduce the risk of infection during the epidemic.

According to Neolix, its autonomous vehicles have been deployed on an experimental basis in catering and retail sectors in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. Last year, Neolix also formed a strategic partnership with Noon, the first business-to-consumer e-commerce platform in the Arab region, to deliver 5,000 self-driving vehicles.

Pudong, as the first AI innovation application pilot area in China, now has nearly 500 AI enterprises, accounting for more than one-third of Shanghai's AI firms. Key AI application scenarios in Pudong in 2020 are focusing on manufacturing, healthcare, elderly care, education, and logistics.

The AI industry has effectively stimulated the computing power and algorithm industries, as well as integrated circuits and AI chips, said Tang Shiqing, director of the Commission of Science, Technology, and Economy in Pudong.

"AI is also empowering the downstream traditional manufacturers to help them improve cutting-edge competitiveness," said Tang.

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