Yinchuan leads the way in using tech to improve daily life

Source: Straits Times on June 2, 2017 | Lim Yan Liang

When retiree You Yulan began her search for a new home in 2015, her main requirement was that it had to be served by a lift.

"My (ailing) mother had to be bundled in a blanket and carried down the stairs as the stretcher could not fit her doorway," the 65-year-old recalled. "That was when I knew I had to move out of my old apartment, which didn't have a lift."

But Madam You, who bought a 92 sq m apartment that year in a new condominium called Future City, discovered that its name was not an empty boast: It provided one vision of how life can be improved by technology and sensors.

Future City is one of 20 smart communities in Yinchuan, the capital of Ningxia Hui autonomous region in central China and a city of two million people close to Inner Mongolia.

Some facilities at the condo, such as free Wi-Fi in public spaces and noticeboards that give to-the-minute weather, traffic and bus arrival information, may already be familiar to those living in more wired countries.

But more cutting-edge technologies in daily use here speak to Yinchuan's ambition to be the blueprint in China's goal to become a country of smart cities.

Facial recognition software at the condo autonomously determines if an electronic gate should swing open (for residents), or if security should be alerted (for flagged individuals, such as criminals).

In the condo, a bank of passcode- enabled lockers sits beside refrigerated lockers for perishables, a boon for busy executives.

Around the neighbourhood, solar- powered dustbins flap open when they sense someone nearing, self- compact rubbish when they fill up, and automatically alert the disposal company when they reach capacity.

For Madam You, one feature that has made a big difference is the proliferation of community medical examination clinics around Yinchuan, one of which is within her condo.

For 200 yuan (S$40) a year and a refundable deposit of 980 yuan, she gets a smartphone-sized device that can take 22 different health measurements, ranging from body temperature and heart beat, to blood sugar level and bone density.

The device communicates with an app on her smartphone, and results are sent to the cloud, where healthcare professionals monitor the data.

"This way, residents take charge of their own health, and the app lets them know if, say, their blood pressure is higher than the normal range for their age group," said Ms Ma Ting, a clinician at the centre.

Less tech-savvy or more squeamish residents - some tests require taking one's own blood sample - can visit the clinic to get help.

"I'm afraid of needles but I need to track my blood sugar level, so I come down to the clinic (to have my blood taken) three times a week," said Madam You. "I no longer have to travel almost an hour to the hospital just for this test."

Even as building smarter communities is a key plank of Yinchuan's smart city plans - it aims to outfit another 480 neighbourhoods (about one-quarter of the city) with such features by the end of this year - that is only half of the story.

The other half stands at a 105ha zone in the north of the city that has become a one-stop centre for residents who need to access any kind of government service.

At the five-storey Citizens' Hall, an average of 14,000 people pass through its doors daily to renew their passport or driving licence, start a business or get documents notarised, among other things.

A display case shows how far Yin- chuan has come: It contains 69 government stamps from 26 separate departments that have since been replaced by a single approval seal.

The centre, officially opened in 2015, has integrated under one roof the functions of 30 different offices from around the city that were responsible for some 400 administrative approvals and public services.

Read more here