Chinese telecom giant Huawei is turning its technology to aid the nation's coal mining industry, which is considered one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Credit: Handout.

Hit with tough sanctions after the Trump administration labelled it a threat to national security, Huawei is looking for other sources of revenue for its advanced technology.

Barred from accessing the vital components it needs and in response to struggling smartphone sales, the Chinese telecom giant is pivoting its technology for the nation’s coal industry and pig farmers, BBC News reported.

Earlier this month, Huawei founder and chief executive Ren Zhengfei announced a mining innovation lab in northern China’s Shanxi Province.

He wants to develop technology for coal mines that will lead to “fewer workers, greater safety, and higher efficiency” and enable coal miners to “wear suits and ties” at work.

During a round-table meeting at the event, Ren said the company was also expanding into consumer products such as televisions, computers and tablets, BBC News reported.

“We can still survive even without relying on phone sales,” Ren said, adding that it is very unlikely the US will remove Huawei from a blacklist that bars companies from working with the Chinese tech firm.

Former US President Donald Trump claimed Huawei can share customer data with the Chinese government, allegations it has repeatedly denied. No proof of this has also been presented by the Five Eyes intelligence group, or any other security agency.

As a result, the world’s largest telecoms equipment maker has been limited to making 4G models as it lacks US government permission to import components for 5G models, BBC News reported.

Huawei’s smartphone sales plunged 42% in the last quarter of 2020 as it struggled with a limited supply of microchips due to the sanctions.

Huawei has also been locked out of the development of 5G in a number of countries, including the UK, amid fears over national security.

“The issue here is not like there’s any problems with our quality or experiences of the Huawei products. It’s not a level playing field for Huawei as Huawei is caught in between the geopolitical tensions,” a company spokesman told the BBC.

And so, Huawei appears to be looking for other sources of revenue — moving into cloud computing services, smart vehicles and wearable devices.

Meanwhile, Huawei’s partners envision an entirely different future for the mining industry.

ABB is the world’s largest maker of industrial robots with more than four hundred thousand machines installed worldwide.

ABB’s Chief Technology Officer Bazmi Rizwan Husain told Huawei’s 2019 Shanghai Connect conference:

“Let me give an example of what can happen in the future, from the mining industry. It’s crucial for economies. Mining is not always safe and productive and efficient as it could be. ABB supplies a lot of equipment to improve safety and productivity. Today most mines are operated in island mode. You have extraction and mining that are then fed into the processing site, treated as separate islands. When we look at a mine of the future, it will be a confluence of several technologies. The first thing is to take humans out of harm’s way — out of the mines where there is danger. Humans will work in a safe control room above ground through virtual reality, augmented reality — they will be able to see and control the process. In the operations part, humans are replaced by autonomous equipment both for moving the more, for charging the mine for new blasting areas—and if you have a problem you will use digital diagnostic capabilities you will be able to fix the fault faster and better.”

(“You Will Be Assimilated: China’s Plan to Sino-Form the World,” by David Goldman, Bombardier Books, 2020)

Sentient industrial robots that design their own production procedures, robo-surgery by remote and control, and augmented-reality mining coal may sound like science fiction, but Huawei and its partners — the heavyweights of the medical technology and robotics world — have already built the technology.

Mining accidents are not uncommon in China, and the industry’s safety regulations can be badly enforced. In December last year, 23 miners died after a carbon monoxide leak at a coal mine.

In September, 16 workers were killed at another mine on the outskirts of Chongqing, also due to carbon monoxide.

Along with Artificial Intelligence (AI) tech for the coal mining industry, Huawei is also working with pig farmers, BBC News reported.

China has the world’s biggest pig farming industry and is home to half the world’s live hogs.

Technology is helping to modernise pig farms with AI being introduced to detect diseases and track pigs.

Facial recognition technology can identify individual pigs, while other technology monitors their weight, diet and exercise, BBC News reported.

Other Chinese tech giants, including and Alibaba, are already working with pig farmers in China to bring new technologies.

“The pig farming is yet another example of how we try to revitalise some traditional industries with ICT (Information and Communications Technology) technologies to create more value for the industries in the 5G era,” the Huawei spokesman added.

It should also be noted that this interest in farming is not particularly new for Huawei.

Back in December, the company announced that it was trialing a variety of 5G solutions on a soy farm in Brazil, reported.

The pilot program will see various sensors placed throughout the farm, providing the farmers with real-time data that allows them to respond more quickly to threats to their crops. 

— with files from “You Will Be Assimilated: China’s Plan to Sino-Form the World,” by David Goldman, Bombardier Books, 2020.