Missile-maker gives Xinjiang Cotton production a boost

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URUMQI: Engineers at China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp, the nation’s largest missile-maker, are using their expertise to help cotton farming in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, project insiders said.
Engineers at the 23rd Institute of the CASIC Second Academy said that they are using high-definition cameras and an advanced artificial intelligence-enabled image algorithm to observe and analyze the growth phases of cotton and have set up 19 observation stations across Xinjiang, the largest cotton-farming region in China. “The high-definition cameras take pictures of the top and bottom of cotton plants and send the pictures to a computer,” said project manager Xu Aiguo. “Then the AI-enabled image algorithm analyzes the pictures to conclude the plants’ growth period, height and density.” The instruments are also tasked with measuring meteorological factors such as temperature, humidity and wind speed, he said.
Data is transferred to meteorological and agricultural authorities in Xinjiang to help them decide the optimal time for cotton cultivation and harvesting and which measures should be taken during certain periods of growth, Xu said. “We launched a trial run in 2010 in cotton farms in Shawan in cooperation with the Xinjiang Regional Meteorological Service and then gradually promoted the equipment to other places across Xinjiang,” he said. “The technology has extensively boosted the automation level and operational effectiveness of local cotton farming businesses.”
Zhou Wang, who helped design the equipment, said the capabilities and the performance of the image algorithm have evolved over the years, with faster identification speeds and higher accuracy.
“It is now able to identify and analyze 500 pictures at the same time,” he said. “Its conclusions are very close to those made by professional laboratories.” Zhou said that besides cotton, the algorithm can also work on other crops like corn, rice and wheat, adding the technology has been applied in several trial programs in the provinces of Yunnan and Zhejiang and in Chongqing. The Beijing-based 23rd Institute is a leading research body in radar and terahertz technology in China and has taken part in the development of many advanced defense technologies. Encouraged by the central government’s policies to foster the transfer of defense technologies to civilian industries, institute designers have been seeking to make use of their know-how in service for the public, Xu said.
Xinjiang is well known for its premium, long-fiber cotton, which has long been popular among domestic and overseas clothing makers. Official statistics show the cotton growing area in the region has reached 2.5 million hectares, and its cotton output last year was 5.16 million metric tons, accounting for 87.3 percent of the country’s total.
Some 7 million rural residents in Xinjiang are engaged in cotton-related industries, with the majority from ethnic minority groups. Cotton has become a cash cow for many Xinjiang farmers.
– The Daily Mail-China
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