'China's Silicon Valley' aids Beijing transformation

Published on 04/02 2018  Source: Xinhua


"For Beijing, innovation is the only development path," said Cai Qi, Party secretary of the city.

As forerunners of the city's innovation-driven development strategy, high-tech businesses in Zhongguancun have established a deserved reputation for their strength in research and development.

Among them is chip designer and manufacturer Cambricon Technologies. The startup is a key business partner with telecommunications giant Huawei, providing the latter with its intellectual property relating to AI chips.

The neutral processing unit in the Kirin 970 - a so-called integrated circuit called a system on a chip or SoC - developed by Huawei for its Mate 10 smartphone launched last year, uses IP from Cambricon.

Integrating almost all components into a single silicon chip, a SoC usually contains a graphics processor, memory, a USB controller, power management circuits and wireless radios.

The new AI chips developed by Cambricon imitate the working mechanism of neutrons and synapses in a human brain, which can increase efficiency in processing orders by hundreds of times compared with conventional chips.

Cambricon also launched other new AI processors featuring deep learning capabilities similar to AlphaGo, a computer program developed by Google DeepMind that shot to fame for defeating human champions of the hugely complex ancient strategy board game Go.

The AI chips can be used for image recognition, security monitoring, intelligent driving, unmanned planes, automatic speech recognition, natural language and other applications, the company said.

Behind the achievements in technological innovations is the Zhongguancun administrative committee's strong support. The local authorities rolled out policies to encourage the development of the integrated circuit design sector in 2015.

Spurred by the favorable policies, the industry in the region reported marked R&D progress throughout last year.

Tsinghua Unigroup announced in March 2017 it would partner with UK-headquartered Dialog Semiconductor Plc, in a bid to develop smartphone chips.

Electronics manufacturer Xiaomi debuted its smartphone chipset Surge S1, developed by its subsidiary Pinecone, last year.

The move signaled that Xiaomi has become the fourth SoC manufacturer worldwide, after Samsung in South Korea with its Exynos, US tech behemoth Apple with its A series and Huawei with its own Kirin processor.

Sensoro developed the world's smallest low-power wide-area network chip in August 2017. At just 1-square-centimeter, the chip is capable of telecommunications within a distance of 10 kilometers.

In December 2017, Horizon Robotics, a startup company specializing in embedded AI technologies, launched its Journey 1.0 processor for smart driving and the Sunrise 1.0 processor for smart cameras, after two years of research.

The local integrated circuit or IC design sector is projected to generate more than 80 billion yuan ($12.68 billion) in annual business revenue in 2020. By then it will form the largest industrial cluster in the field in China, according to the Zhongguancun area's development plan.

In addition to IC design, Zhongguancun has also presided over a huge boom in AI commercial applications.

CloudMinds Technology Co Ltd uses cloud computing technologies to operate a robotic portal, which serves as a robotic brain and focuses on safety networks, intelligent machine learning, and research into robotic control technologies.

Another cutting-edge tech company, Remebot, developed a navigation and orientation robot for neurosurgery, the first of its kind to be successful in clinical applications in China.

Online retailer market JD has established an intelligent logistics center and internet giant Baidu unveiled Apollo 2.0 in early January, the updated version of an open sourced project for a driverless car operating system that the company released last year.

High-tech companies in Zhongguancun generated 5 trillion yuan in combined business revenue last year.

The area is home to 67 unicorns - startup companies valued at $1 billion plus. These are known for their high growth potential and strong innovation capacities - accounting for half of the country's total and almost one quarter of the world's total.

Industrial observers say the flourishing high-tech businesses are benefiting from an innovation-friendly environment in Zhongguancun, which boasts a great number of business incubators, industrial trade associations and university communities.

"Centering on Beijing's goal of building itself into a national technological innovation hub, we will continue to reform and improve the local business environment to encourage startups, cooperation in innovation, and commercialization of research achievements," said Zhai Lixin, director of Zhuangguancun's administrative committee.

The area's goal is to form industrial clusters of AI, biopharmaceuticals, new materials, and environmental protection, and to better position itself on the frontiers of the world of technology and related industries, Zhai added.