From cameras the size of a bullet that scout your gut for stomach cancer, to a grid of sensors in signs, stoplights, roads and other infrastructure that communicate with automated vehicles city or even nationwide, an ecosystem of businesses in Wuxi is at the center of the global push for the integration of networks with human activity.
That integration, often called the Internet of Things [IOT], is leading to a revolution in intelligent vehicles, automated manufacturing, robotics, and new energy development that will transform lives for generations. China, through its strategic industry development plans that will help its industries move up the global value chain, is betting on Wuxi as a focal point for that advancement.
IOT industries have generated around $540 billion in revenue in China, according to Wu Zhenlong, governor of Jiangsu province, speaking at the opening of the World Internet of Things Expo in Wuxi in mid September. Wu said that artificial intelligence and the digital economy will “bring about an unprecedented revolution” in China and be a major driving force for high-quality economic growth.
Wuxi has been trying to do just that as part of a program to pilot the LTE-V2X [Vehicle to Everything] system, one that is aimed at saving lives on the roads and making traffic more manageable and efficient. Sensors have been placed roadside infrastructure in the pilot zone to communicate with vehicles with drivers and possibly later autonomous vehicles, showcasing how urban roadscapes could be transformed in the future.
“There are over 13,000 accidents a year just in Jiangsu province, and reductions in that can only be realized if cars are smarter,” Xu Wenwei, Huawei’s chief marketing officer said.
Xu envisions up to 500,000 roadside cameras and a million or more traffic lights in China being equipped with sensors that will communicate with vehicles to guide them safely, alter speeds and choose efficient routes. The process is only starting in Wuxi, with currently only around 240 intersections piloted.
As our vehicle cruises down the road, a warning from an Alexa-like voice announces the potential for a collision. A pedestrian shows up on the screen, promoting the vehicle to slow. An ambulance racing up from behind results in warnings sounding for us to pull out of the way. It appears to work well, but one glitch and it could go horribly wrong.
“We are only at the very early state of autonomous vehicle and artificial intelligence [for roadways] and if a machine is not trained well or if the machine is not guided clearly the result will be dangerous,” Xu said.
Huawei and partner such as China Mobile, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, and the Traffic Management Research Institute of the Ministry of Public Security hope eventually that the V2X standards can be adopted nationally and perhaps globally, though as with the rollout of 5G development worldwide, there will be intense competition not only for the technology but about who decides the standards.
Throughout Wuxi you can see businesses transforming to adopt IOT technologies. Envision, a Wuxi-based leader in wind turbine technology, is increasingly adopting IOT technologies as part of a global management system that utility companies can use to better utilize renewable energy, stored energy and traditional energy as it is fed into grid system.
SunRa, which produces electric vehicles, is partnering with Shunfeng Express, one of China’s top delivery companies, to provide drivers with all electric bikes that will reduce urban air and noise pollution.
The United Kingdom’s AstraZeneca is working with local hospital systems in Wuxi to provide better care through developing technological solutions that reduce waiting times, increase response times in emergencies, and bring better care for patients with chronic diseases like lung cancer and gastrointestinal disorders that are increasingly on the rise in China.
Miracle Automation, which produced production lines that seven out of ten vehicles produced in China are made upon, is increasingly fine-tuning its automated conveying systems to make the vehicle production process faster and more efficient. The company is also increasingly moving toward producing lines that assist makers of new energy equipment and has also set up systems that can manage the whole lifecycle of vehicles, from creation to the eventual recycling.
While these revolutions in IOT are creating both great excitement and great anxiety, as sensors and screens pervade our lives, concerns rise about invasions of privacy and the security of the vast amounts of data that are being collected. Concerns rise about workers being displaced by machines.
“We all feel very anxious about the complexity, we feel that it is very hard to keep up, we want to keep up and not be left behind,” Sun Pishu, CEO of data company Inspur Group said summing up the mixed mood accurately.
New technological tools could both cause great advancement or great harm, depending on how they are used or who wields them. Educating the public about the costs and benefits of these technologies will be paramount in whether they are effectively adopted.