CITE offers a glimpse into Chinese tech

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CITE offers a glimpse into Chinese tech


Clockwise from left: A screen shows Reconova’s facial recognition system for retail shops at the China Information Technology Expo (CITE) held at the Shenzhen Convention & Exhibition Center in China on Wednesday; the entrance to the CITE exhibition; the JoneR Translator developed by Chinese start-up Babel Technology translates an English menu into Korean using artificial intelligence; Royole’s FlexPai foldable smartphone. [KIM JEE-HEE]

SHENZHEN, China - Flexible displays, artificial intelligence and 5G took main stage at the China Information Technology Expo (CITE), the Chinese version of the Consumer Electronics Show held last week on the home turf of Huawei and ZTE in Shenzhen, China.

Big-name companies like Huawei kept surprisingly quiet on their flexible display and 5G strategies during the expo, conscious of the ongoing trade war between the United States and China. Still, among the 1,600 participating companies, exhibitions from fast-growing Chinese start-ups clearly showed the country’s focus in the digital era.

A little recognition

Facial recognition using artificial intelligence and computer vision technology is one area where Chinese companies have been showing rapid progress in recent years.

Sales director Morgan Guo of Chinese computer vision start-up Reconova told the Korea JoongAng Daily last Wednesday at CITE that its facial recognition technology is currently deployed in more than 30 percent of Chinese airports including Shenzhen International Airport and Guangzhou Airport.

The Xiamen-based start-up was founded in 2012 and has been rapidly expanding its business with major partners being Alibaba, Huawei, Xiaomi and China Mobile. Last year, it attracted investment from Intel’s investment arm Intel Capital, though the amount of money injected hasn’t been disclosed.

Reconova’s technology is mainly used in airports to tell whether the ID card of the person who bought the ticket matches the person who is getting onboard the plane, according to Guo.

“If you find someone identified as [a person who should not be on the plane], the system will call the police,” Guo said.

On potential security threats linked with facial recognition technology, Guo said Reconova’s system does not take any personal information from users because people’s photos are directly translated into machine code used only to check whether the picture matches the person trying to pass through security.

“The system does not keep the picture. It is our first step for security,” Guo said. “Secondly, the system meets the requirement of the Chinese government’s safety level standard guidelines.”

The sales director of the seven-year-old start-up described the Chinese government’s security requirements as “strict.”

Its technology is also used in retail shops in China including local sportswear brand Anta, to track how many customers of what gender and age visit shops at what time. The sportswear company can then do its own analysis to find out each shop’s busy hours and major customer base.

Guo said, unlike at airports where the Chinese government requires all visitors to take pictures for identification, retail shops need to earn approval from their customers prior to installing its service.

“For retail shops, they need to have a membership system,” the director said.

The retail shop sends a notice to its members to get approval for tracking their faces, according to Reconova. Customers that give permission have to upload a picture so the system can match the uploaded photo with the actual visitors to shops. This way, the technology does not track random visitors who have not agreed to their information being collected.

Reconova may only be seven years old, but Guo said the company has already exported its technology to Thailand and Kuwait in the banking and oil sectors and is preparing to set up its first foreign office in the next six months. The most likely option for now is Thailand.

Getting flexible

Another spotlighted area at the expo was flexible displays. A flexible form factor for mobile phones has attracted worldwide interest from tech-savvy consumers since early this year because it is arguably the first major transformation to hit the smartphone market in years. Ever since the release of Apple’s first iPhones, phone designs have been largely the same with just a few small changes made by adding more cameras or widening displays by reducing bezels.

Flexible displays, however, open new possibilities in phone design and Chinese display start-up Royole brought its FlexPai foldable phone to the Chinese expo to boast once again that it beat Samsung Electronics and Huawei in the foldable phone race.

The FlexPai currently sells at $1,588 for a 128-gigabyte model and $1,759 for a larger 256-gigabyte model to consumers outside of China. The company declined to reveal its sales volume since it began commercial sales in October last year.

Royole’s brand director Florent Meng told the Korea JoongAng Daily last Wednesday that it spent at least three years developing the hinge of the folding phone, explaining that it is meaningful that the display was made independently by the start-up.

“The hinge can support over 200,000 times of folding and unfolding,” Meng said. “This means it can easily support you for over four years of usage.”

When unfolded, the FlexPai phone becomes a 7.8-inch tablet with a 4:3 aspect ratio. The phone folds in half, but the exact screen size after folding was not revealed.

Meng said that in the future the phone may support 5G, as it is already equipped with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 chipset that can support the new network.

Responding to criticism of the FlexPai’s low battery capacity and thick design, Meng said the company plans to “gradually make this device more advanced,” adding that the flexible display market will continue to expand.

“Interaction between information and humans, I think, should have a carrier,” Meng said. “The carrier is the screen itself … and it should have more possibilities [than a single rigid screen.]”

Apart from Royole, Chinese display companies BOE and CSOT also showed off their own flexible displays during the expo. While BOE is known as the supplier of flexible panels for Huawei’s upcoming Mate X foldable smartphone, the company declined to comment on the development of its flexible displays for that particular phone. Huawei also did not exhibit its Mate X phone during the expo.

Unlike Samsung, which will roll out its first foldable phone Galaxy Fold in the U.S. market from April 26, Huawei has yet to release a specific launch date for its foldable phone.

A host of other electronics and tech companies took part in the three-day CITE event, hosted by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the People’s Government of Shenzhen Municipality, ending Thursday last week.

Other well-known participants included China’s TCL, Haier, Skyworth and Hisense. Among the smaller firms were AI translator developer Babel Technology and VR games and public security system maker Tsinghua Tongfang.

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