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People's Park harnesses technology to broaden appeal

China Daily Updated: 2020-11-17

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Night view of Zhejiang province's Wuzhen water town. [Photo by Miguel Villanueva for China Daily]

Public area's makeover in Wuzhen, Tongxiang, demonstrates harmony of science and nature.

This is a place where one can talk to a screen, take pictures with virtual animals, dance in front of an "electronic mirror" and practice tai chi following an animated instructor.

This is not a science center, but the 64-year-old People's Park in Wuzhen town of Tongxiang city in Zhejiang province. "It's in the memories of generations of locals," says a park staff member surnamed Qian.

A 16 million yuan ($2.41 million) smart technology makeover has added modernity to the traditional park, which reopened to the public free of charge on Oct 1, the first day of China's National Day holiday.

The makeover is part of an effort by Wuzhen, the permanent site of the World Internet Conference, to take technologies out of the lab and into the community.

"The World Internet Conference takes place annually in Wuzhen ... ," a triangular screen standing at the park's entrance answers a question about the WIC asked by a visitor.

Visitors can talk to it or touch it to access information such as the real-time price of vegetables, water and electricity.

Things inside the park may look ordinary from the outside, but a closer look may reward your curiosity with a pleasant surprise.

By downloading the park's namesake mobile application, visitors are able to watch reliefs on a wall come to life through an augmented reality camera on the app. The animation is accompanied by narration.

The reliefs tell stories about four celebrated historical figures from Tongxiang. One of them is Mao Dun, an author widely acclaimed for works such as Ziye. The clip shows him handing his manuscript to his mother for suggestions.

The bench at the park is not ordinary either. If one places his or her mobile phone on it, the phone will suddenly light up and start charging.

If visitors feel cold when they visit the park in winter, there is no need to rush home for warmth. They could sit on the bench, which "heats itself to around 25 C in winter when it senses that a person has sat down", according to Qian.

The electricity comes from the bench itself. It has a roof featuring solar panels, which not only absorb energy, but shelter people from the rain and sun.

"A lot of visitors now remain in the park, on the roofed bench, even when it's raining," Qian says. A park is a place for people to clear their mind. Litter bins with artificial intelligence in People's Park can take another thing off their mind by sorting their litter for them.

The bin opens by itself when it senses something approaching. The moment the litter is inside, the bin identifies whether it's recyclable or not and dumps it into the corresponding container.

"The accuracy of the identification is over 80 percent and increases over time through deep learning," Qian says.

Pointing to an expanse of green not far from the bin, Qian says, "This is one of the kids' favorites."

By scanning the area using the park's app, giraffes, sea lions, elephants and peacocks pop up on the screen. Upon being tapped, the sea lion claps, the elephant sprays water and the peacock spreads its feathers. "Kids love taking photos with them," Qian says.

The park has seen an expansion in its visitor base since the makeover. "The majority of visitors were aged 45-70 before the makeover," Qian says.

"Now it's between 20 and 70," she says. "Young parents often take their kids here to learn about the technologies and students come here for their science projects."

Seniors can also handle the devices with ease because "the designers have simplified the steps involved so that older people can quickly learn how to use them", Qian says.

Among the spots most popular with seniors are two large screens placed at the park square. One is for square dancers and the other for those interested in martial arts, such as tai chi. People can see themselves on the screen through a high-resolution camera and learn the moves from an animated instructor.

"Most of time," Qian says, "the screen for square dancers is occupied from around 6 am till evening, except meal times."

Other smart features of the park include intelligent street lamps, a 5G-enabled self-service convenience store and a fountain that turns on upon sensing human movement.

Wuzhen People's Park is one of a slew of smart projects the town has launched to improve people's lives using the latest technologies. Others include an internet hospital, an autonomous farm and 5G-powered self-driving bus services, according to the local government.

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