Five Chinese smart cities leading the way

By Chia Jie Lin

China's cities are using AI-directed traffic, smart parking and cashless payments to improve citizen services.

Across the world, over a thousand smart city pilots have been launched. China is home to half of these cities, amounting to a staggering 500 pilots.

The country’s smart city ambitions have been predominantly powered by private-sector giants, which has enabled cities across China to rapidly enhance their tech and innovation capabilities to meet citizen needs.

GovInsider shares five Chinese cities leading the way.

1. Hangzhou’s “City Brain”

Launched in 2016, the Hangzhou “City Brain” project, created by Chinese retail and tech company Alibaba, uses cameras systems and sensors across the city to collect data on road conditions in real-time. The data is fed to an AI hub, which then manages traffic signals at 128 intersections, and helps city officials make better decisions at a faster rate.

By pulling from traffic and weather data, the City Brain analyses real-time traffic flow to regulate traffic signals at over 100 intersections.

For instance, the system tracks ambulances en-route to hospitals and turns all red lights in its path to green, allowing patients to receive timely emergency care. The City Brain has since halved travelling times for ambulances and commuters, and cut travel times on highways by 4.6 minutes.

The programme has also allowed the city’s traffic police to work more efficiently. They use data from the AI hub to arrive at accident sites and respond to traffic violations faster. “The City Brain can detect accidents within a second, and we can arrive at the site in 5 minutes,” said Zheng Yijiong, China’s first traffic policeman to control traffic flows with an AI partner.

2. Cloud platforms and smart parking in Shanghai

Shanghai is streamlining government services for their residents through Citizen Cloud, a cloud-based platform that doubles as a mobile app. The cloud platform aggregates and provides easy access to over 100 government services for Shanghai residents, which includes drivers’ license information, healthcare records and a wide range of community services.

By December 2017, approximately one-third of Shanghai’s population, or seven million users, have begun using the platform and app to access essential public services.

The city has also developed a big data exchange platform, where companies can purchase open data collected from the city’s cameras and sensors. These companies will then use the data to develop public information tools, dashboards and other services to improve the quality of life in the city.

Parking has also become an important issue in urban cities as car populations continue to skyrocket, outpacing the supply of available public parking spots.
To solve Shanghai’s public parking woes, Chinese tech giant Huawei launched a smart parking network that allows car users to find, book and pay for nearby parking spots, simply from an all-in-one smartphone app.

Chip-sets are embedded beneath parking spaces in over 300 parking lots across the city, which collate and transmit real-time information on the occupancy rate of parking lots to car drivers through the app. Rather than search for available parking spots while driving through town, drivers can look up nearby vacancies on the app and then pay to use them.

The smart parking network eases potential congestions caused by frustrated drivers who seek parking spaces, and lowers manpower costs traditionally incurred from hiring toll collectors and parking supervisors.

3. Go cashless in Beijing

Why commute with subway tickets or use cash when you can pay with your phone?

Beijing is leading the front on cashless payments, pioneering the use of mobile payments for public transport and retail. For one, Huawei has rolled out mobile payments across major cities like Beijing through the Huawei Pay app.

The app directly links to public transport cards, or preloaded fares, and credit cards, allowing commuters to pay by simply tapping their smartphones at metro gantries, convenience stores and retail shops.

Since August 2017, all Beijing subway lines, which see a total ridership of 10 million daily, have begun supporting mobile payments for metro rides. Rather than buy subway tickets, passengers can enter the subway by swiping their phones.

4. Guangzhou, China’s startup capital

Home to 140,000 technology enterprises, Guangzhou is spearheading China’s innovation and startup movement. “Over 11,000 businesses are nurtured by various incubators and group innovation space,” said Gong Hongwu, Director General of Guangzhou Science, Technology and Innovation Commission.

The city is developing tech and innovation capabilities through various ambitious projects. For instance, construction is currently underway for the Sino-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City, which will comprise of hi-tech business parks, commercial and public amenities, and housing for 500,000 residents.

The city has also launched a regional health information platform that collects patient records from five municipal hospitals and another five grassroots institutions. It currently stores over 8 million electronic health records of Guangzhou residents. The platform allows hospitals and patients to easily access relevant healthcare records when needed.

Major hospitals in Guangzhou have launched a smart medical app, a one-stop online platform where citizens can make appointments, pay hospital fees and access other healthcare services. People can also have prescription medicines delivered to their home, after paying for them through WeChat Pay.

“Medical services are just one click away; you can just stay at home and have all these services come to you”, said Cai Chaolin, Vice Mayor of Guangzhou, in an exclusive interview with GovInsider.

Guangzhou has also launched the “Digital Education City” platform, a smart campus pilot at the primary and secondary levels, reports the United Nations’ International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

The campus cloud platform integrates over 30 education application systems, and stores over 90% of teacher data, as well as all student records. The system allows teachers to manage their teaching and research materials, while students can access homework and student records. It has been implemented in 78 schools, providing essential campus services for 150,000 students and teachers.

5. Managing migrations to Xi’an

China is in the midst of its largest rural to urban migration yet, and cities are learning to respond to these demands.

Xi’an is using big data analytics to track population movements from rural towns to the city itself, ITU reports. By understanding the backgrounds and occupations of their new citizens through data analytics, the city government hopes to create public services that cater to the needs of their new migrants.

As Chinese cities continue to rapidly urbanise, private sector innovation can help cities become smarter, faster, and more inclusive for citizens.

Images from Wikimedia Commons and Flickr - CC BY 2.0