Shanghai’s old laneways get facial recognition, smart fire alarms in tie-up with iPhone maker Foxconn

World’s biggest contract maker of electronics diversifies into internet of things

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 November, 2017, 10:33am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 November, 2017, 11:08pm

A dowdy Shanghai residential neighbourhood is getting a hi-tech makeover by the manufacturer of the iPhone, and many more might follow under a cooperation pact between Foxconn and the city government.

Under the plan, Foxconn will equip 1990s-era buildings in the Yangpu district with the latest smoke-detection systems to improve fire safety, and facial-recognition software that can identify and flag potential intruders using data from a central control room, according to Wu Renjie, the executive director of Foxconn’s cloud and network business unit.

“We will embed fire alarms, smoke detectors and temperature sensors as well as facial-recognition cameras, connected within a system, to capture and show all the data on the big screen installed in the central control room,” Wu said in an interview with the South China Morning Post in Shenzhen.

The company is in talks with the Shanghai government about extending the pilot project, he said, declining to discuss financial arrangements. Foxconn will derive revenue from the management of the system, rather than just the installation of the hardware, he said.

Urban planners and city authorities worldwide have been applying information technology to municipal problems for years – from rubbish bins that can notify waste trucks when it is time to collect to automatic street lighting. For Foxconn, the push into the business of connecting the physical and digital worlds, called the internet of things, marks an attempt to diversify beyond hardware manufacturing.

The world’s biggest contract maker of electronics, Hon Hai Precision Industry – or Foxconn – gets more than half of its sales from Apple. Its shares have risen by 25 per cent this year in Taipei trading.

While that outpaces Taiwan’s benchmark stock index, it trails behind internet giants such as Tencent Holdings and Post owner Alibaba Group Holding, both of which saw their share prices double this year.

Facial recognition, which has garnered attention in China and abroad through its use in unmanned supermarkets and ATMs, is also finding use as a security tool for public security agencies – and even at the neighbourhood level by property-management companies.

Beijing Sensing Technology, a start-up that operates smart communities, is seeking to win contracts from property developers and management companies to embed its security systems into residential communities. At one of its projects in Yinchuan in northwest China, doors to a building open automatically upon recognising residents, but not to outsiders, through the use of facial-recognition technology, said Liang Xiance, a senior product manager at Sensing Technology. “The systems make the communities more intelligent and safer,” he said.

The difference can mean life and death. In the Shanghai neighbourhood equipped with Foxconn’s latest detection technology, for example, a kitchen fire that breaks out in a narrow walkway will be pinpointed in a control room within seconds. That could win firefighters precious minutes and minimise the damage to property as well as loss of human lives.