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Cities mobilize high-tech for improved development

Hubei lake makes strong comeback, while Haiyang industry 'far out'

China Daily | Updated: 2024-02-02 09:32
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People flock to a big screen for the livestreaming of a rocket launch event, in Haiyang, Shandong province, in January.  LI ZIHENG/XINHUA

BEIJING — Chinese cities are pursuing high-quality development in various ways, but new technologies are a consistent choice and have already helped some explore smarter, greener and more innovative paths.

Huangshi, an industrial city in central China's Hubei province, has reaped the benefits of intelligent technologies.

Mining may conjure up images of a dirty, labor-intensive and dangerous sector. But that is not the reality in Huangshi, where mining relies on unmanned machines, remote monitoring technologies and intelligent coordination systems.

Dressed in a blue work suit and white shirt, Daye Iron Mine worker Yuan Jianjun sits in front of several computers in a spacious command center. His eyes are glued to the screens, which show live images of underground mining machines and real-time data from sensors placed inside the mine and on the tools in operation.

In the past, Yuan toiled underground in a very dusty environment amid the deafening din of heavy machinery. "It used to be a challenging job both physically and mentally," he said.

The coal miner, who is in his mid-forties, underwent additional training and then resumed his career as a white-collar worker. Now, machines are controlled remotely from an office environment to collect minerals.

Tech support has reduced labor intensity and improved workplace safety, enabling more mining sector employees like Yuan to work in a safer and healthier environment than previous generations.

"It has become a decent job," Yuan said.

Technology is also driving green development in Xiong'an New Area. Local tourist destination Baiyangdian Lake offers the public a glimpse into how cutting-edge technologies are assisting the ecological conservation of Huangshi, characterized as a "future city".

Many Chinese people have a special place in their hearts for Baiyangdian, the largest freshwater wetland in the region. In several famous literary works from the 1940s, the lake was described as flourishing with reed beds and towering lotus fields, and offering an abundant harvest from the water.

Between the 1960s and 1980s, however, it severely suffered from industrial pollution. Wastewater and chemicals polluted the water and lake beds, decimating aquatic life, with the lake nearly drying up in the 1990s due to scorching weather. Habitat loss and human interference then caused the lake's avian population to drastically decline.

Baiyangdian's rehabilitation and protection activities have improved since Xiong'an New Area was established in 2017.

Tech companies and academic organizations have been pushing to develop monitoring devices using new modalities. People who work near the lake have deployed drones and carried out unmanned boat patrols with real-time video feedback in the 360-square-kilometer lake area. The 5G network's high speed and low latency, combined with virtual reality equipment, enable people to inspect the lake's surface visually and obtain data in real time.

Since 2019, the lake's new technology system has significantly decreased manual labor and increased work efficiency, enabling workers to identify pollutants more quickly and accurately.

Increasing species of wildlife are returning to Baiyangdian as the water quality improves, and the lake has steadily evolved into a haven for lotuses, reeds and abundant fish species.

Another beneficiary of new technologies is Haiyang in East China's Shandong province. The small coastal city used to rely on the textile sector, but it is now attempting to capitalize on a booming commercial rocket launch industry to increase its competitiveness.

The city made national headlines in early September when a private rocket maker completed a launch from off the city's coastline. The spectacular launch attracted thousands of spectators to an onshore viewing site.

It was the sixth sea-based rocket launch from the location. On June 5, 2019, a Long March rocket blasted off from a mobile offshore platform at Haiyang Port, marking China's first space launch at sea.

Spacecraft launches have long been the domain of China's State-owned aerospace companies, but private space firms have emerged since a government policy was implemented in 2015 to encourage commercial enterprises in the industry.

"There are limited launch pads available for commercial rockets, and the sea spaceport in Haiyang is a perfect complement to land sites," said Orienspace CEO Bu Xiangwei.

Orienspace is one of China's newest launch startups and is headquartered in Haiyang. The company said that the total cost of a sea launch can be 10 percent less than a land launch, and the preparation period can be shortened by 50 percent.

The local government in Haiyang also aims to establish an entire industrial chain to tap into innovation-driven economic growth potential. Since 2020, it has stepped up its efforts to build Haiyang Oriental Aerospace Port, which covers an area of over 34 sq km and includes an industrial manufacturing park for rocket makers and supporting firms, a satellite data center and a tourism zone for fans of astronomy and space travel.

Haiyang's aerospace ambitions are both lofty and down-to-earth. Facilities such as aerospace museums, space-themed hotels and restaurants are also being planned. The local government hopes that space-related tourism will also improve the livelihoods of people on the ground.


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