Inside Shanghai FTZ|Zhangjiang “For the dreamers”: This is the stage for innovation and realized dreams

A biology-focussed version of ChatGPT can generate new macromolecular drugs with one click and conduct reliability experiments. A sign language model driven by artificial intelligence (AI) can become a personal interpreter for the hearing-impaired, whether it is assisting with medical treatment or daily life, it can do all the jobs. By putting on hi-tech mechanical braces, paralyzed patients may get out of their beds and perform daily acitivities… These fantastical ideas are slowly becoming reality in the hands of Zhangjiang’s “dreamers”.

Ten years ago, the China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone (hereinafter referred to as the Shanghai Free Trade Zone) was established. Two years later, the 37.2km2 of Zhangjiang High-Tech Park became a part in the Free Trade Zone. Harnessing the power of scientific and technological innovation combined with the advantages of free trade, the Zhangjiang area of the Shanghai Free Trade Zone has become a stage for innovation and a “blessed place” for countless dreamers to realize their goals.

The development and public release of ChatGPT allows the general population to feel the magic of AI. “Drug research and development is a long and complex process with long cycles, high investment, and high risks. Everyone has been looking for ways to speed up and increase efficiency,” Wang Mingtai, vice president of Jingtai Technology, told China News Service reporters. He added that, ‘can AI can be used as a key to making drugs’, is a question that many practitioners in the biomedical industry have been working to answer.

According to Wang Mingtai, relying on current technology, AI can predict and design molecules, but in order to truly become a drug, lengthy reliability experiments are needed. “These experimental steps are cumbersome and the rules are detailed. If only traditional methods are used, a large number of R&D’s time and energy will be spent on simple and repetitive work.” Therefore, Jingtai Technology has proposed, “intelligent computing, and automation. The innovation trinity of experimentation and expert experience has built China’s largest intelligence-integrated automated drug research and development team.

In the Jingtai Technology Drug Innovation and R&D Center, you can see this play out: in each automated independent robot workstation, robotic arms move back and forth, left and right, synthesizing and manufacturing molecules designed and generated by AI. They act as tireless assistants, helping scientific researchers to accelerate the acquisition of ideal drug molecules.

“Zhangjiang is a highland for innovation and a stage for self-expression.” In Wang Mingtai’s view, Jingtai Technology’s rapid growth is inseparable from Zhangjiang’s industrial advantages. “Whether it is a top multinational pharmaceutical company or a start-up company in the biomedical industry, they are all gathered in the Zhangjiang area.” Wang Mingtai said that, as an artificial intelligence-driven biopharmaceutical company, a multitude of potential partners can be found in Zhangjiang. “Only by finding people, meeting them, and talking to them, can you create more sparks of innovation.”

“The Pudong New Area actively promotes the development of the artificial intelligence industry by basic support, technological innovation, and forward-looking layout,” says Xia Yuzhong, deputy director of the Science and Technology and Economic Committee of Shanghai Pudong New Area. At the end of 2022, there were more than 600 key artificial intelligence enterprises in Pudong, the ratio of artificial intelligence enterprises above expected value exceeded 120 billion yuan, and Pudong’s artificial intelligence industry was showing an upwards trend of leading development.

“Zhangjiang is our ‘blessed place’.” Zhang Chaohua, CEO of Dijing Digital, described.

In his opinion, for the Metaverse industry where Duijing Digital is located, Zhangjiang has developed a complete industrial layout from entrance to terminal; on the other hand, Duijing officials attach great importance to opening up and cultivating industrial ecology. “For example, the Yuanverse Industry Alliance established by Zhangjiang last year allows companies at different positions in the industry chain to jointly explore cutting-edge topics in the Yuanverse and help companies overcome difficulties in the industry chain,” Zhang Chaohua said.

Zhang Chaohua said that a series of policies piloted in the Zhangjiang area of the Shanghai Free Trade Zone have not only allowed start-ups like Duijing Digital to reap dividends in areas such as intellectual property protection, tax incentives, and talent introduction, “it also provides scientific and technological enterprises with opportunities to explore and transform high technologies into business scenarios.”

The digital twin city in a 4.1km2 core area of Zhangjiang is a project implemented by Duijing Digital based on the self-developed digital twin base system. Based on a real-time rendering engine, the digital twin city summarizes massive the data of “people, places, things, objects, and emotions” and can realize functions, such as immersive 3D navigation and regional traffic flow simulation. According to Zhang Chaohua, this digital twin base system has now departed Zhangjiang and entered the urban operation center platform of multiple districts in Shanghai.

By opening up a “industry-university-research-application” chain, Zhangjiang has pressed down on the accelerator for the transformation of innovative achievements. According to Zhang Chaohua, the cooperation between Dijing Digital and the Shanghai University of Science and Technology will soon produce another remarkable result – a large model digital human, capable of sign language.

The main way for hearing-impaired people to obtain information is through vision, and the main way of expression is through sign language. When hearing-impaired people go to the hospital for treatment, they need an interpreter to accompany them from pre-diagnosis to registration, consultation, examination, payment, and dispensing of medicines. “Each interpreter can serve only 8 to 10 deaf-mute people a day. And there are only 28 of such volunteer interpreters in Shanghai.” Zhang Chaohua said.

“The artificial intelligence large language model we jointly developed with the Shanghai University of Science and Technology first collects the sign language and mouth movements of deaf-mute people, and then cleans and trains the multi-modal data to achieve a basic sign language model.” Zhang Chaohua introduced. In the future, this “Sign Language ChatGPT”, refined from a large model, will be able to realize automatic recognition and conversion between sign language, speech and text. “I hope that with the help of technology, hearing-impaired people will be able to see a doctor, handle various businesses smoothly, and integrate into social life just as smoothly as able-bodied people,” Zhang Chaohua said.

Wearing mechanical “armor” can recover lost functions of the paralysed body. This is the dream of Gu Jie, the founder of Shanghai Fourier Intelligent Technology Co., Ltd. Zhangjiang is Gu Jie’s choice of setting to realize his dream.

In 2015, Shanghai’s first rehabilitation robot startup, named after the French mathematician Fourier, was founded in Zhangjiang, aiming to bring the “rehabilitation magic” of robots to disabled people and elderly with limited mobility.

“We found an area in Zhangjiang, which provided us with a very convenient physical space. My entrepreneurial partners and I can focus all our energy on breaking through with core technologies.” Gu Jie said. “Whether it is government-guided funds or private investors’, in Zhangjiang, it is not difficult to find funding for good projects.”

Zhangjiang Robot Valley, where Fourier Intelligence is currently located, is one of the first industrial parks in Shanghai and is also a concentrated area for the intelligent manufacturing industry. Many intelligent robot partners in the park, including leading robotics companies and innovative institutions, are both neighbours and partners in the Valley.

One one hand is financial and policy support, and the other is like-minded industrial partners. “We have found the most suitable industrial innovation ecosystem for growth, in Zhangjiang,” Gu Jie said.

In the eight years since it took root in Zhangjiang in the land of the Free Trade Zone, Fourier Intelligence has completed its transformation from simply a “dream” to a one-of-a-kind enterprise. The company currently has more than 30 products on the market, which are exported to more than 40 countries and regions around the world and settled in more than 2,000 hospitals and institutions.