Science & Technology

China’s ‘Silicon Valley’ betting heavily on smart factories and robots

By Alvaro Alfaro

Beijing, Sep 29 (EFE).- The new smart factories and logistic robots for the delivery of packages featured at the forum of Zhongguancun, dubbed as the Chinese “Silicon Valley,” on the outskirts of Beijing.

The forum, which was first held in 2007, was attended by leading figures from the technology community such as Xiaomi’s founder Lei Jun, who spoke about their aim to become the world’s largest mobile phone manufacturer by sales.

To achieve this, he stressed that the company will rely “on smart manufacturing” and revealed they were building a smart factory on the outskirts of Beijing, which will “work without staff” and produce “10 million high-end mobile phones every year.”

“Smart manufacturing is a sea of opportunity,” Lei said, adding that “75 percent of Chinese companies” were already preparing to implement it.

Xiaomi, on its part, has named this form of production “black light” because hardly any human workers will be required, thus reducing expenditure on energy and labor, while increasing performance.

The factory is expected to become operational in 2023.

E-commerce platform, a competitor to Alibaba in online retail sales in China, has been investing heavily in robotics.

The Beijing-based company introduced a system of logistic robots for warehouses that can work both on the ground and on shelves, “breaking the limitation that robots operate only horizontally or vertically,” according to the description that could be read on its stand.

They also presented their robots for package delivery, which could potentially replace their 190,000 “last mile” delivery agents, representing the most complex part of the logistics network.

In recent months, companies in this sector are exploring the possibility of replacing their delivery agents with robots, either by land or air.

While looking for greater profitability, the firms are also preparing for a future where they will not be able to hire human workers easily.

According to China’s 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025), the working-age population (16-59 years) is expected to fall by 35 million, which could result in a reduction in the labor force.

The forum also had a health section related to coronavirus vaccines.

A Xiamen University scientist, Xia Ningshao, presented an anti-covid nasal spray that is effective until 24 hours after application, which he claimed “would improve China’s response capacity to outbreaks” and “increase the security of public events on a large scale.”

The nasal spray’s developers believe that it can form a “front-line” immune barrier against the coronavirus in the upper respiratory tract, thus increasing its effectiveness.

This method would also facilitate immunization campaigns against the virus.

So far, the Asian country has administered 2.206 billion doses of its anti-covid vaccines, although experts believe that due to the Delta variant, China needs to fully vaccinate at least 83 percent of its 1.4 billion population to achieve herd immunity.

The forum was held at a time when several Chinese technology companies have faced investigations and fines from regulatory authorities for allegedly maintaining monopolies or violating user privacy, affecting major firms such as the ride hailing app Didi and Alibaba, among others. EFE


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