A major study has documented a rising tide of scientific innovation coming from Asia’s fast-developing countries, especially India and China. Conducted over 18 months by UK-based think tank Demos, it challenges the conventional wisdom that scientific ideas come from the top universities and research laboratories of large companies based in Europe or the US. It found ideas emerging in unexpected places, flowing around the world conveyed by a mobile diaspora of knowledge workers from the South.
China has seen its spending on research and development jump by 20 percent each year since 1999. India is now producing 260,000 engineers a year and its number of engineering colleges is due to double to 1,000 by 2010. Research and development in India has grown by threefold over the past decade. There is now a global flow of research and development money to the new knowledge centres of Shanghai, Beijing, Hyderabad and Bangalore.
The study found the greater political and economic emphasis being placed on science and technology was paying dividends. These emerging science powers are now investing heavily in research to become world leaders in information technology, biotechnology and nanotechnology within the next ten to fifteen years. This is also producing a flood of scientific papers from China and India to the world’s prestigious scientific journals.
For India, its knowledge-based industries by the end of this year will be a US $57 billion export industry, accounting for 4 million jobs and 7 percent of Indian GDP. Interestingly, the study also found a new wave of change is underway. Where once it was mostly low-wage manufacturing and call centre jobs that were going to China and India, a new wave of research and development jobs is now moving there. Drawn in by technology clusters in Shanghai and Bangalore, “Microsoft began to realize we can’t find all the talented people in the US. Nowhere in this universe has a higher concentration of IQ power (than India),” said Harry Shun, head of Microsoft’s research in Asia.
The Atlas of Ideas is an 18-month study of science and innovation in China, India and South Korea, with a special focus on new opportunities for collaboration with Europe. It is a comprehensive account of the rising tide of Asian innovation. It pinpoints where Asian innovation is coming from and explains where it’s headed. Special reports on China, India and Korea, introducing innovation policy and trends in these countries can be downloaded for free here.
Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India
Innovation China: A website linking all stories on the fast-breaking world of Chinese innovation.
Since the 1950s, science fiction has been telling the world we will soon be living with robots. While robots have emerged, they have been mostly kept to heavy industry, where machines can perform dangerous, hot and unpleasant repetitive tasks to a high standard.
But China is pioneering the move to mainstream robots in more public spheres. And the country is promising big changes in the coming decade.
Robots, strange as it may seem, can play a key role in development and fighting poverty.
If used intelligently, the rise of robots and robotics – itself a consequence of huge technological advances in information technology, the Internet, nanotechnology,artificial intelligence, and mobile communications – can free workers from boring, difficult and dangerous jobs. This can ramp up the provision of public goods like cleaning services in urban areas, or remove the need to do back-breaking farming work.
Robotics also offers a new field of high-tech employment for countries in the global South who are producing far more educated engineering and science students than they can currently employ. These students can help build the new robot economy.
China is considered to be in the early stages of competing with robot pioneers such as Japan, Switzerland, Germany, Sweden and the United States. And China still has a low penetration of industrial robots per population. In 2011 estimates placed the number of industrial robots in China at 52,290 (International Federation of Robotics) (ifr.org).
In the years ahead, China confronts a double demographic problem. It has the world’s largest elderly population, who will need care, and it also has a shrinking number of young people available to work as a result of the country’s one-child policy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One-child_policy).
Robots can help solve these problems.
China started its robotics research in the 1970s and ramped it up from 1985. It has already made significant progress manufacturing domestic robots for cleaning. The Xiamen Lilin Electronics Co., Ltd. (http://cnlilin.en.made-inchina.
For the heavy duty stuff, there is Ningbo’s Dukemen Robot, sold with the slogan “man, technology, robot”. The company manufactures arm-like robots for heavy lifting and lifting in dangerous or uncomfortable environments (dukerobot.com/ks/robot-manufacturers/).
A company called Quick specializes in making soldering equipment for manufacturing electronic components and sells robots that can do this with high accuracy and speed (quick-global.com/9-new-soldering-robot-1.html).
Other robotic advances in China include a robot dolphin that swims through the water measuring its quality.
There are also robots in development to do housework and help people who need assistance in the home like the elderly and the disabled. These robots can monitor a person’s physical condition and provide psychological counselling and search for, and deliver, requested items. One example is called UNISROBO, and is based on the Japanese robot PaPeRo robot (http://www.nec.co.jp/products/robot/en/index.html).
Even more ambitiously, China is developing robots to send to the moon.
The push to introduce robots into the workplace and wider society is receiving considerable attention in China.
The Taiwan-based technology company Foxconn – well-known for assembling products for the American company Apple, maker of the iPad and iPhone -has pledged to deploy a million robots in its Chinese factories in the coming years to improve efficiency.
Some are forecasting that if China starts building robots on the scale it has pledged, then the world’s population of manufacturing robots will grow tenfold in 10 years.
China is also broaching one of the trickiest aspects of robotics – getting robots to interact with humans.
The tricky bit in robotics is getting interaction with human beings right and to avoid the experience being intimidating or frightening. One sector that is already ahead in experimenting with this aspect of robots is the restaurant business. One robot being used in restaurants sits on a tricycle trolley laden with drinks. It cycles from table to table in endless rotation allowing customers to choose drinks when they like.
The first robot restaurant started a trial run in 2010 in Jinan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jinan), the capital of Shandong Province. The hot pot restaurant uses six robots to help with the service. The restaurant has also given itself the perfect name for this new approach: Continental Robot Experience Pavilion. Adorned with robot posters, the restaurant is 500 square metres in size and can seat 100 diners.
Diners at the Continental Robot Experience Pavilion are greeted by two ‘female’ “beauty robot receptionists” dressed in uniforms. Inside, the six robot waiters serve the customers. There are two to deliver drinks and two to serve the small tables and two to serve the big tables.
The robot comes to the table and takes the customers’ orders for food dishes and drinks. The robots, designed with sensors to stop them moving when they sense something or someone in front of them, are able to handle 21 tables and deal with the 100 customers at a single sitting.
The robots have proven so effective, the restaurant’s staff can stay focused on administration and providing assistance. The cooking is still done by human beings.
This trial run is designed to test the concept and the novelty of having robots attracting customers, the restaurant’s manager told the People’s Daily Online.
The plan is to increase the number of robots to 40 and also to have robots do cleaning and other tasks.
“They have a better service attitude than humans,” said Li Xiaomei, 35, who was visiting the restaurant for the first time. “Humans can be temperamental or impatient, but they don’t (the robots) feel tired, they just keep working and moving round and round the restaurant all night,” Li said to China Daily.
1) The Robot Report: It boasts compiling more than 1,400 robotics-related links and is about “Tracking the business of robotics”. Website: therobotreport.com
2) The Robot Shop: Bills itself as “The world’s leading source for professional robot technology” and sells online all the parts, kits, toys, tools and equipment to get any enthusiast or small and medium enterprise working with robotics quickly. Website: robotshop.com
3) Robot App Store: Sells ‘apps’ or software applications to expand the capabilities of robots. It also operates as a store for application developers to sell their robot apps to others. Also has information and resources on how to get started making robot apps and making money from making robot apps. Website: robotappstore.com
4) Roboearth: Funded by the European Union, RoboEarth is an online, open source network where robots can communicate with each other and share information and “learn from each other about their behaviour and their environment. Bringing a new meaning to the phrase “experience is the best teacher”, the goal of RoboEarth is to allow robotic systems to benefit from the experience of other robots, paving the way for rapid advances in machine cognition and behaviour, and ultimately, for more subtle and sophisticated human-machine interaction. Website: roboearth.org
5) Robotland: A blog writing about the “visions, ideas, innovations, awards, trends and reports from leading robotics research and development places in the world”. Website: http://robotland.blogspot.co.uk/
6) China Hi-Tech Fair: Running from 16-21 November 2012, the Fair is a great way to see the latest developments in robotics in China. Website: chtf.com/english/
7) Singularity Hub: A cornucopia of robotic resources and news on “science, technology and the future of mankind”. Website: http://singularityhub.com/
A lot has happened since: the new global magazineSouthern Innovator was launched, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) came to an end in 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) launched, and the UN adopted an innovation and South-South agenda, and so did many other countries, including China. And the content of the website has expanded to reflect this. The entire archive of the influential United Nations e-newsletterDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutionscan be found here, as well as many resources chronicling the international development journey from the late 1990s.
We even moved to a new studio and headquarters next to a bird sanctuary and nature reserve (matching our green words with green actions)!
We were able to identify numerous trends that were at the time being overlooked or under-reported; trends that could radically re-shape international development. This included the rapid rise ofmobile phonesin the global South and their powerful impact on economic development, the rush to cities and urban areas that was turning the world into a majority urban place, and the shift to greater South-South trade, investment and contact. Whereas the past involved people always looking North for inspiration, capital and business and trade relationships, this was shifting to South-South arrangements. And there were plenty of inspirational, modern, 21st century examples of economic, social and human development achievements across the global South to report on. By consistently tracking and chronicling a quiet revolution underway in the global South, the e-newsletter was able to draw attention to a rising 21st-century global innovator culture being shaped by the use of mobile phones and information technologies. Few at the time had grasped how much this was going to reshape the international development paradigm.
To start, the e-newsletterDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions(begun in 2006), was used to gather together as many stories, data, trends, and contacts as possible and get this message to as wide a group as possible. Luckily, this coincided with the very moment whole swathes of the global South were coming online, either through connecting with mobile phones or through the Internet. Quickly, it became clear there was not a lack of inspiring stories and innovations and solutions to share, but a lack of resources to communicate them. One solution was to utilise a new publishing tool that emerged in 2007: crowd-powered news services. It became a great way to bypass the stranglehold on news and information held by traditional media. Read more on this here:http://www.scribd.com/doc/251968773/Southern-Innovator-Summary-of-Impact-2011-to-2012
In particular, the e-newsletter caught the eye of those looking for inspiration in the wake of the 2007/2008 global economic crisis:
“Great economic and business reporting! Very helpful for us.” Africa Renewal, Africa Section, Strategic Communications Division, United Nations Department of Public Information
“I just went over your June newsletter. It’s very well done and far reaching. Congratulations!” Violette Ruppanner, Director, 3D -> Trade – Human Rights – Equitable Economy, Geneva, Switzerland
“Just to let you know I enjoyed the newsletter a lot – it was interesting to learn about things going on that I would never otherwise find out about, and also the listing of future conferences and events proved very useful.” Ian Sanderson, Deloitte, Geneva, Switzerland
“Congratulations on another great newsletter that’s packed with fascinating information! I really enjoy getting it each month.” Whitney Harrelson, Making Cents, Washington D.C.
2008: Development work begins on the concept for a book on innovation in the global South. Attend an Africa trade-focused meeting in Switzerland just as the global crisis breaks. Witness attendees dash from the event as they get frantic calls from London and New York. Undertake Cuba study tour with the BSHF.
2010: Begin working with graphic designer and illustrator Solveig Rolfsdottir and graphic designer Eva Hronn Gudnadottir in Reykjavik, Iceland on the initial concepts for what would become Southern Innovator. The working title for the new magazine is Creative Sparks.
2014: The fifth issue ofSouthern Innovatoris launched at the Global South-South Development Expo (GSSD Expo) in Washington, D.C.. Southern Innovator has always tried to inspire others to take action and this has turned out to be the case.
“Beautiful, inspiring magazine from UNDP on South-South innovation. Heart is pumping adrenaline and admiration just reading it”
Once blazing a lonely trail, there are now many places to find stories on global South innovation (The Guardian, SciDev, Devex, Business Fights Poverty, Zunia etc.). Mainstream media have also woken up to the energy and change sweeping across the global South, disrupting its regular diet of negative news stories focused around war, disasters and failure (unfortunately, still the majority of what most people see on their TV).
“I liked your latest Southern innovator! Always inspiring.”
“Btw, I really enjoyed reading them, impressive work & a great resource. Looking forward to Issue 6. My best wishes to you & your team at SI.”
“The magazine looks fantastic, great content and a beautiful design!”