View Source day 2: Shanghai

This and the following blog posts aims to document a trip to Shenzhen, to the cradle of things. To read all blog posts in the series, click on the viewsource tag.

Please note: These are quick notes typed up while traveling. Apologies for any typos, missing links, etc.

At NYU Shanghai, we join David Li for a lecture on the role of Shenzhen for global manufacturing and design, and how it’s changing. David is the founder of the Szenzhen Open Innovation Lab (SZOIL) as well as of China’s first maker space. He’s also our kind host for this trip, and our main guide to the Shenzhen ecosystem.

NYU Shanghai Visiting NYU Shanghai for a lecture by David Li.

David researches the role of open hardware and open source for innovation, and how the Shenzhen ecosystem is evolving. Having lived both in the US and China, and with a strong technical background as well as entrepreneurial experience, plus cred in the maker scene, we couldn’t ask for a better guide.

He speaks about how Shenzhen can innovate in the hardware sector at a greater speed than any other region of the world. How Shenzhen is the largest, most integrated ecosystem in this space. How openness and knowledge exchange is baked into the system. How this all allows for an almost Darwinian approach, a Cambrian explosion of new products in endless permutations: A truly evolutionary approach to product design.

Because of quick turnaround and low costs, it’s possible to make products for niches (in China, even a niche can be quite large in absolute numbers). An example he shows is a couple of years old, but no less astounding today: a combination of phone, flashlight, speaker, battery pack and camera. The purpose? Camping. It could have been a hit product. Likely, it never was.

What about the internet?

We get asked by friends and colleagues abroad about the internet situation. Two days in, this is how we experience it: Our VPN—a service that encrypts our internet connection and in theory should allow us to access websites around the globe—works, to a degree. The connection to this VPN service often takes a long time to set up, and once it’s running it can be slow and sometimes cut out. But overall, we can access our emails, and make all the relevant Skype calls. We’ll keep an eye on how it evolves.

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