Although it may not always feel like it to those living here, China is at the very forefront of technological inventions and development. The days of cheap Chinese knock-offs are (very slowly) disappearing, and in their place we are increasingly finding impressive and innovative products and services. Below are some of the cool inventions you can (or soon will) experience in modern China.
Flying taxi drones are finally a reality! Unfortunately, they’re not a reality in our daily lives in China just yet. Guangzhou-based company Ehang has invented the taxis, basically an oversized drone with enough space for one passenger. The scary thing is, the passenger can’t control it; the route is programmed into the drone prior to takeoff. Dubai has already put in an order for the flying taxis, and hopefully we’ll see them in China in the years to come too.
An honorable mention goes to another great transport invention already in our lives in China. Okay, it may not be as cool as flying taxis, but it is something arguably as hazardous – bike sharing! Sharing bikes may not sound like an invention perse, but its implementation has had a huge impact on the way people get around Chinese cities. Whether this business model will turn out to be economically feasible for the companies providing these services, however, is yet to be determined.
Also let’s not forget DiDi (Uber with Chinese characteristics). With Uber’s China operations now sold to Didi and the latter having introduced an English interface, this is a lifesaver of an app for expats living in China.
The future or law enforcement already exists, albeit on a very limited scale. China, the United States, the United Arab Emirates and the Democratic Republic of Congo have all introduced robotic policemen, although some are little more than glorified traffic lights with a robot-inspired design.
Lucky for us living in China, the AnBot is the first of these robots to be armed with a weapon - a taser-like projectile that can stun and incapacitate unruly citizens. The AnBot was released by China’s National Defence University last year and has already been used to assist passengers at Shenzhen Airport and Zhengzhou East Railway Station, and most recently to keep visitors in line at Beijing’s National Museum over the Mid Autumn Festival.
It goes without saying, however, that widespread implementation of these robocops will take years, perhaps even decades. Their usefulness can also be disputed, as none of the current droids can walk up or down stairs. And unlike their evil sci-fi brethren the Daleks, they most certainly cannot fly (yet).
Air Quality Inventions:
China has some pretty impressive technology to monitor and improve air quality, which is great. Unfortunately, China has plenty of reason to need these devices. The perhaps most impressive of all these inventions is the “smog-eating tower”, created by Dutch artist and provocateur Daan Rosegaarde. This huge air cleaning tower made headlines in China and abroad when it went on its debut tour, briefly creating bubbles of clean air in the cities it stopped.
Not only can it clean the air in the immediate vicinity of where it is placed, but the carbon particles collected can be trapped inside plastic “gem stones” to make quirky jewellery. Pretty neat stuff. Unfortunately, it’s more of an art project and proof-of-concept right now, but we hope to see more of this kind of thing in China in the coming years.
Earlier this year, Rosegaarde. and his team also introduced their vision for a smog-eating bicycle accessory that sucks up polluted air, cleans it and then blows clean air around the cyclist. Although still in the development stages of the project, Rosegaarde. is said to have already signed a deal with bike sharing company OFO to make his dream a reality.
Honorable mentions go to the already exisiting solutions, such as pollution monitors and air purifiers. Most weather apps now list the Air Quality Index as standard, and if you want more information there are hundreds of dedicated AQI apps that will give you detailed pollution maps and forecasts. You can even get app-controlled air purifiers that send you real-time monitoring of your indoor AQI, even when you’re not at home. This may, however, lead to the horrifying realization that shutting your doors and windows doesn’t really help.
Next Generation Payments:
Facial recognition is being put to work in China. While the West is still debating if the technology can negatively affect the personal privacy, China has few qualms about such trifles. Today you can use your face to pay at a Hangzhou KFC or receive toilet paper from an automated dispenser at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. What a time to be alive! In June this year, China Southern Airlines even allowed passengers to have their faces scanned instead of issuing boarding passes.
Facial recognition technology is nothing new, having first been invented in the 1960s by an American mathematician, but the adoption rate has begun to speed up. Expect to see more of it in China in the near future.
An honorable mention goes to mobile payments, of which nearly 85% of all transactions by Millennials in China’s top tier cities consist of . It’s not revolutionary in a technical sense, but the fast adoption rate and widespread use is nothing short of a technical and societal marvel.
You thought Google Translate was the future? Well, it kind of is, although it now has plenty of competitors. The newest type of translation software lets you listen or record spoken words in one language and have it instantly played back or translated into written text in another language. Some creepy British guy on YouTube was even able to get to first base by using a wearable speech translator in Japan.
An honorable mention must of course go to the above mentioned Google Translate, although the days of entering foreign text in one box and seeing the translated text in the other are over (unless you really, really need to translate a chunk of text). The app now employs augmented reality to instantly translate text, making our lives in China a whole lot easier. For example, want to know what’s on the monolingual menu at a restaurant? Just open Google Translate’s camera function, hover your phone over the text and watch as the hieroglyphics turn into actual words . They must have made a deal with the devil for that kind of sorcery!