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Tencent Holdings introduced on Wednesday an automated payment system for car parks across China. Set up under its WeChat Pay operation, the system has been rolled out to more than 1,000 car parks nationwide, including in major shopping malls, railway stations and airports. Photo: Bloomberg

WeChat Pay launches auto scan-and-pay for parking in China’s shopping malls

  • The artificial intelligence-based system has been rolled out across more than 1,000 car parks nationwide

Tencent Holdings on Wednesday introduced an automated payment system for car parks across China, as part of the company’s sharpened focus on businesses related to the industrial internet.

The Shenzhen-based internet giant said the system, set up under its WeChat Pay operation, has been rolled out to more than 1,000 car parks nationwide, including in major shopping malls, railway stations and airports.

To be part of this system, car owners must register their plate numbers under their WeChat Pay accounts. Their plates are scanned by specially set-up cameras located at the exit points of car parking sites. The artificial intelligence-based system automatically matches the captured image of the plate number with a database of WeChat Pay users to determine the corresponding account and settle the parking fees.

The initial deployment of the so-called pay-by-plate service at Coastal City, a major shopping and office complex in the Nanshan district of Shenzhen, has already resulted in faster payment processing and exit time for vehicles to an average of two seconds, compared with 20 seconds before, according to Tencent.

“QR code scanning is no longer required under this system,” Wang Yuxi, the operations director of WeChat Pay, said on Wednesday in Shenzhen. “The payment can be processed even when the drivers’ phones are out of power or the signal is weak in underground car parks.”

Wang said the new WeChat Pay service’s roll-out will be expanded to include parking sites in schools and around popular tourist areas.

The launch of the automated payment system for car parks comes amid the latest corporate restructuring at Tencent, which currently derives two-thirds of its revenue from online gaming and social media activities.

The restructuring, the first in six years for Hong Kong-listed Tencent, will see the creation of a new business group devoted to cloud and smart industries. Another new group will combine its social media, mobile internet and online media operations.

This marks a “significant strategic upgrade” for the company, which had connected users with consumer services in the past, Tencent chairman and chief executive Pony Ma Huateng said in a statement in October. Given that “the next era of the internet is the industrial internet”, Tencent will connect “industries and consumers to build a more open ecosystem”, he said.

The new direction would leverage the expertise and goodwill Tencent has built in developing its multi-faceted WeChat platform, which has more than 1 billion users.

With the next wave of advanced technologies set to infuse machines with artificial intelligence and connect industrial objects in an internet of things, China has been determined to upgrade its manufacturing base to gain leadership in what has been dubbed the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The restructuring and focus on cloud services would appear to reinforce Tencent’s role as one of China’s designated AI champions, which include Alibaba Group Holding, Baidu, iFlyTek and start-up SenseTime.

To be sure, Tencent rival Alibaba has also been involved in automated payment systems through affiliate Ant Financial Services, which runs Alipay. Users of Alipay can pay their bus fares in a number of cities, including Hangzhou and Wuhan, by scanning a designated QR code with their smartphones.

Both WeChatPay and Alipay also compete in processing mobile payment services in taxis and railway lines across China.

New York-traded Alibaba is the parent company of the South China Morning Post.