An AI-powered robot called Xiaoyi took China's notoriously difficult medical licensing exams in November 2017 and passed with flying colours, the first automaton to do so. The docbot was developed by speech recognition firm iFlytek, and comes equipped with intelligent voice functions and self-learning abilities, although its reports still need to be signed off by human doctors. In March 2018, it was reported that the robot doctor had started its first "internship" in a hospital in East China's Anhui province, where hopsital staff hoped the AI technology would improve efficiency.
China is the world's top investor in renewable energy, having committed $698 billion (£551.4bn) in renewables capacity between 2010 and the first half of 2019 according to a UN-backed report. It's also home to the largest-ever floating solar plant, which is located in a former coal mining area in the eastern province of Anhui. The solar farm, created by Sungrow Power Supply, was officially in operation as of June 2017 and can generate 40 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 15,000 homes. However, it might soon be overtaken. Rival developers Three Gorges New Energy have already partially connected a 150 megawatt floating solar farm (pictured), also in Anhui, which will be the world's largest when fully commissioned.
Flying cars might be in the skies sooner than you think. Chinese startup EHang has been testing manned flights of passenger drones since 2016, at speeds of up to 80 miles per hour (130km/h), carrying one and two passengers for 25 minutes at a time. The company has a one-seater model, EHang 184, and two-seater model, EHang 216. Before the drones can be widely used, the company still has to develop infrastructure like take-off and landing pads, in cooperation with local authorities.
While customers in the West wait for Amazon's flying delivery service to happen, Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com is already using drones to deliver packages. The company currently operates 40 pilotless craft serving the rural provinces of Jiangsu and Xi'an, and since starting the service in 2016 it has completed more than 20,000 drone trips. In January this year, JD.com completed its first drone delivery outside of China, delivering a box of books and backpacks to children over 155 miles (250km) away, in Indonesia.
Catching up with the US and Russia, China has established itself as a leading player in space exploration in recent years. In 2016 for instance, the world's largest single-dish radio telescope, the Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST), was completed in the province of Guizhou in south west China. The supersized device is designed for monitoring the cosmos for signs of alien life. FAST has been open to use for Chinese astronomers since April 2019, and on 24 September it passed a series of assessments which means it can be used by astronomers across the globe.
China is set to turn trash into treasure when the Shenzhen East Waste-to-Energy Plant becomes operational in 2020. The plant, created by architect firms Schmidt Hammer Lassen and Gottlieb Paludan, will handle a third of Shenzhen's daily waste and power up to 100,000 homes. What's more, the 710,418 square-foot (66,000 square metre) roof will be covered in photovoltaic panels, allowing the waste plant to generate renewable energy as well as dealing with the city's waste sustainably.
Moving ever closer to human cloning, in January 2018 a team at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Xi'an, China successfully cloned two macaque monkeys, which they named Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua (pictured). The monkey twins are the first non-human primates to be cloned through the technique, called somatic cell nuclear transfer technique (SCNT), which was used to create Dolly the Sheep 23 years ago. A year later, in January 2019, Chinese scientists went one step further, editing a monkey's genes to mutate its sleep cycle. They then cloned this "gene-edited" monkey to create five almost-identical monkeys with the same mutation to their sleep cycle. Researchers believe the technique could be used to investigate conditions such as Alzheimer's disease.
Bank workers may want to consider a career change. The China Construction Bank opened the world's first robot-staffed bank on 11 April 2018 in Shanghai. Customers are assisted by a cheerful AI-powered bot, as well as a number of interactive devices that incorporate augmented and virtual reality.
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Steaming ahead of the US, China launched the world's first quantum communications satellite in August 2016. Quantum communication is essentially a secure, hacker-proof way to communicate or send data back and forth. The Quantum Science Satellite (QUESS) weighs 1,323lb (600kg) and made its launch from the Jiuquan Satellite Center in the Gobi Desert.
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In February 2018, researchers at Tongji University announced the world's first lung regeneration therapy. A major medical breakthrough that could transform the lives of people living with lung disease, the treatment uses patients' own stem cells which are then transplanted into patients' lungs. There, they develop and repair the injured parts. The therapy was successfully used to ease the symptoms of patients suffering from bronchiectasis.
Another global first, a fully automated trackless smart train that runs on a virtual railway was first tested in the city of Zhuzhou in October 2017. The rail system, called Autonomous Rail Rapid Transit (ART), looks a bit like a cross between a bus and a tram, yet can carry far more passengers than a bus and doesn't require railway tracks. It's now up and running in Zhuzhou, Hunan province, Yonhxiu, Jaingix province and Yibin, Sichuan province. The ART has recently been tested in Doha, Qatar and has attracted interest from more than 100 cities across the world.
In December 2017, the Chinese military began testing for terrifying new superweapon: the world's first battleship-mounted railgun. It's been called the world's most powerful naval gun, using electromagnetic energy to propel shells at hypersonic speeds of up to 5,760 miles per hour (9,270kmh). Reports suggest it will be ready to use in warfare by 2025.
Solar roads provide cheap renewable power where it's needed and have the potential to power other aspects of a city's infrastructure. France built the first solar road in 2016, but in December 2017 China completed the world's first solar expressway, which spans 63,238 square feet (5,875 square metres) in the city of Jinan. The expressway produces enough energy to power 800 homes, although the Chinese government plans to use the electricity that's generated to power street lights, CCTV cameras and billboards, as well as to melt ice and snow.
Boosting its green credentials a notch further, China is soon to begin building the world's first forest city. Home to 30,000 people, the verdant urban area in the province of Guangxi will boast 40,000 trees capable of absorbing 10,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. All buildings will be covered in plants, temperature control in homes will be powered by geothermal energy and solar panels, and there will be a fast rail line as well as roads for electric cars. Building on the project, commissioned by Liuzhou Municipality Urban Planning Bureau, is expected to begin next year.
China might be making huge strides in renewable energy, but that doesn’t mean it’s abandoned fossil fuels. China Merchant Energy Shipping Co. unveiled its world-first intelligent oil tanker, known as ‘New Journey’, in June 2019. The smart tanker, which will have a capacy of more than 2.257 million barrels, can monitor on-board equipment, track the amount of petrol that’s consumed, and deliver key information about waves, currents and wind conditions at sea. It’s been heralded as a breakthrough in Chinese shipbuilding, and company representatives say it’ll improve efficiency and energy conservation at sea.
Taking the virtual reality experience to the next level, streaming service iQiyi, China's answer to Netflix, unveiled the first-ever VR headset with 4K resolution in April 2018. 4k resolution usually means 3,840 x 2,160 pixels, or Ultra-High Definition. The Qiyu VR II headset is future-proofed to support 8K display when it arrives and promises unparalleled VR visuals. In May this year, iQiyi released a more affordable version of the headset also featuring 4K resolution, for a starting price equivalent to $294 (£234).
China is the first country to construct a third-generation AP1000 nuclear reactor – this new generation of reactors has higher capacity, more advanced safety features and enhanced fuel efficiency. Unit 2 in Sanmen completed a full-power demonstration test run in November 2018, and is now considered to be in commercial operation.
Combining two rapidly-developing technologies, Chinese 3D printing firm Polymaker has partnered with Italy's X Electrical Vehicle (XEV) to manufacture the world's first mass-produced, 3D-printed electric car. The vehicle, which costs a very reasonable $9,500 (£7,566) is almost entirely made from polyamide or nylon, except for its windows, tires and chassis. The car was displayed at the Valentino auto show in Turin in June this year, following which almost 1,800 cars were ordered.
The world's first all-electric cargo ship set sail from Guangzhou Shipyard International in December 2017. The ship weighs a hefty 2,000 metric tons and has a battery capacity of 2,500-kilowatt hours, roughly equivalent to that of 24 batteries for Tesla's Model S P100D car. Ironically, the battery-powered eco-vessel is being used to transport coal along the Pearl River.
If the thought of going to the dentist fills you with dread, would a robot dentist make you feel any more at ease? China is pioneering the use of robot dentists, following the first successful autonomous implant surgery, where a robot fitted two new teeth in a woman's mouth in September 2017. The operation, which took place at a hospital in the city of Xi'an, was closely watched by human dentists.
In April 2018, software and game developer NetDragon showcased the world's first AI teaching assistant. Qiqi can check for absentees through facial recognition, help with marking and set customised projects for individual students. By the end of 2018, Qiqi became available to more than 5 million users across China.
UVS Intelligence System, a drone maker based in Shanghai, introduced the world's first amphibious drone in September 2017. The unmanned U650 aircraft has a cruising speed of 112 miles per hour (180km/h) and can carry up to 552lb (250kg) of cargo. The technology isn't just commmercial though – it's made its way into the military. In April this year, the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC) announced it had built the world's first armed amphibious drone boat, which can be used in both land assault and sea operations, equipped with two machine guns and a missile launching system.
This colossal air purifier could be the solution to China's pollution problems. Designed by researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Xi'an, the 328-foot (100m) tower has improved local air quality significantly: it has managed to reduce levels of some toxic particles in smog by 15% and has produced more than 353 million cubic feet (10 million cubic metres) of clean air per day, since it was launched in 2017. India may soon follow China's lead, and startup Kurin Systems has come up with plans for a 40-feet tall 'City Cleaner' in Delhi that it hopes will provide clean air to the 75,000 people living in the three-kilometre radius of the unit.
In early 2018, a team at the Chinese University of Hong Kong presented the world's first ultrafast 3D microscope. The futuristic medical device has the potential to transform the study of eye and neurological diseases such as glaucoma and Alzheimer's.
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The southeastern city of Shenzhen got a little bit quieter at the end of 2018. Its 16,000 buses have switched from diesel to electric, creating the world's first fleet of 100% electric buses. Not only does this mean that CO2 emissions are expected to drop by 48% – the equivalent of 440,000 tonnes – but with these almost silent buses life for the mega-city's 12 million inhabitants will be a little quieter too. The project comes with a hefty price tag, though, reportedly costing more than $1 billion (£796m) a year in government funding.
China launched Wukong (Monkey King), the world's most sensitive dark matter probe in 2015, which is intended to study dark matter and high energy cosmic rays. In November 2017, the probe detected cosmic ray energy readings that could help towards proving the existence of dark matter – a substance which makes up a quarter of the universe and yet about which almost nothing is known.
On 3 January 2019 China announced that it had landed the Chang'e 4 spacecraft called Yutu 2 (pictured) on the far side of the moon. This image of the previously unseen side has put China on the map of space exploration and NASA described it as a "first for humanity and an impressive accomplishment". The spacecraft will be able to probe the surface if the moon, giving researchers new information about the structure and composition of the moon, helping researchers to understand differences between the near and far side.
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By the end of 2019, researchers in China are set to have finished building an ‘artificial sun’ – six times hotter than the centre of the earth’s Sun. The Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (East) was announced by researchers at the Hefei Institute of Physical Science in November 2018, and in March they enabled it to reach temperatures of 100 million degrees Celsius. Researchers say it will help us achieve ‘nuclear fusion’, the process by which the sun provides its heat and light. If successful, it could be an incredible new green energy source.
Cryptocurrency is nothing new but in China, a new digital currency could soon be the first recognised as legal tender. The central bank digital currency (CBDC) is issued by the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) and is currently in its initial stages of development, with testing being done by simulating various types of payment. It’s unclear exactly how it would work, but bank officials say that it could be put into citizens’ ‘e-wallets’, controlled through their smartphones.