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High-Tech Talents in Shenzhen | Qi Mingyao: Logistics prodigy

        This year, the Guangdong Science and Technology Innovation Conference gave out its 2020 Guangdong Provincial Science and Technology Awards. The project “Key technologies and applications of the intelligent customs clearance system of smart border ports" won the Guangdong Science and Technology Progress Award’s Second Prize. Qi Mingyao, associate professor, PhD advisor, Deputy Director of Logistics Key Laboratory of the Department of Logistics and Transportation at Tsinghua SIGS (Tsinghua Shenzhen International Graduate School), and team project member said in an interview: “Logistics is to the city what blood is to the body. It runs through arteries and capillaries to provide “nutrients” that reach every corner of the city. Operational optimization and smart algorithms can make cities run more efficiently and smoothly.”  

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Shenzhen’s Two “Attractions”

        In 2004, Qi Mingyao graduated from the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences. After getting his PhD in two years, he joined Tsinghua Shenzhen International Graduate School in 2006. Associate Professor Qi discussed what attracted him to Shenzhen fifteen years ago: he wanted to seize the opportunity to work at Tsinghua and was attracted to the value Shenzhen placed on high-tech talents.

        "Shenzhen was already leading the way in enacting the Reform and Opening Up policy when I came here," Qi Mingyao recounted during our interview with him. His major in graduate school was Geographic Information System (GIS). Given that geographic information systems, the global positioning system, and other technologies are frequently used in the logistics industry, he decided to combine logistics with his original major and pursue this interdisciplinary field. Associate Professor Qi explained, "At the time, the development level of logistics in China was far behind that of many foreign countries. We had a long way to go to bridge that gap. Shenzhen is a port city. Logistics was already one of the four pillar industries in Shenzhen, and I knew I could apply what I learned here."

        This year’s award-winning project "Key technologies and applications of the intelligent customs clearance system of smart border ports" is a great example of his work. According to Qi Mingyao, the research for the project mainly aimed at several key common technical problems of the intelligent customs clearance system of smart ports at home and abroad. The team’s research was dedicated to shortening clearance times and improving efficiency. During the research and development process, Tsinghua Shenzhen International Graduate School worked with CIMC iTech, Shenzhen University, and other institutions to tackle key problems. Associate Professor Qi's team focused on algorithm design, which has taken nearly a decade of work. Key technologies and products based on them from the project have been applied in key national strategic projects, such as the construction and operation of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge.

Applying Research Results in Industry

        People from Tsinghua are known for their indomitable spirit, including Associate Professor Qi. He is mainly concerned with three things: talent cultivation, scientific research, and social services. "On the one hand, it’s important to excel in scientific research. On the other hand, it is also important for research results to be practical." In Shenzhen, he has been engaged in teaching and scientific research in logistics engineering and management and carrying out industry-university-research cooperation.

        Qi Mingyao said that research results cannot merely focus on papers or patents. Working with companies allows results to be applied to practical situations. "This will spark social progress and scientific and technological development." In recent years, Associate Professor Qi led his team to cooperate with Huawei, SF express, Vipshop, 4PL (For Perfect X-border), and other companies, which significantly improved efficiency, reduced costs, and enhanced customer satisfaction in the logistics industry.

        In addition, Qi Mingyao and his team have successfully applied their research and development in the logistics and warehousing industries, specifically with their algorithms of path optimization and multi-vehicle cooperation for logistics robots, for which they hold intellectual property rights. Shenzhen Robu Intelligent Technology Co., Ltd., incubated at Tsinghua University, with Qi Mingyao as the co-founder and chief scientist, completed a round of financing of over 10 million yuan at the end of 2017. Associate Professor Qi said that, in the field of intelligent warehousing solutions based on logistics robots, the focus has shifted from intelligent hardware research and development to order allocation, path planning, multi-robot cooperation, as well as other resource scheduling algorithms. In recent years, relevant technologies and products have been applied in many large industry-leading companies.

        “Logistics is to the city what blood is to the body. It runs through arteries and capillaries to provide ‘nutrients’ that reach every corner of the city. Optimization algorithms can make cities run more efficiently and smoothly. This is the essence of smart logistics." The logistics optimization technologies developed by Qi Mingyao involve optimization of urban distribution routes, express service network design, airport baggage route planning, 3D vehicle packing, and optimization of service facility locations, and many other aspects. These technologies decrease cost and improve efficiency by 5-20%.

        "China's logistics industry started late, but the catch-up speed has been fast. We are ahead of the curve now in logistics intelligence, efficiency, service, and many other aspects." Qi Mingyao said that he feels a sense of accomplishment for bringing change to the industry through his own research.

See What You Can't See by Using Students' Eyes

        In his scientific research, Qi Mingyao plays the role of mentor and project leader. As a mentor, he guides students to establish research objectives, publish excellent research results, and graduate successfully. As a project leader, he coordinates scientific research resources, resolves key technical problems, and strives to deliver research on schedule.

        "I really enjoy the process of discussing and offering guidance on papers with students, which is also a process of improvement for all." He also said that discussing issues with students was extremely thought-provoking. You have to think from the perspective of the student: use their way of thinking to analyze problems and point out possible directions for the future, which is challenging and is filled with a lot of opportunities for innovation. In fact, teachers are not much better than students; we need to use the students' vision, borrow their eyes to see what our own cannot. He is so proud that many PhD and master's students that have graduated from his team have become the backbone force of algorithm teams at Cainiao, JD, Huawei, SF Express, Meituan, and other companies.

        Qi Mingyao’s expectations for himself are very high. He often stays up late many nights in a row to solve an algorithm problem. "When I can't figure it out or the results aren’t good, I tend to still work on it before I go to sleep. If I wake up the next morning and come up with a new solution, the first thing I do is turn on my computer and try it out to see if the results are better. This has become a habit of all our scientific research workers.

        From Qi Mingyao’s perspective, for the past few years, Shenzhen has paid increasing attention to introducing basic research by drawing in more colleges and universities and talents. Shenzhen has been important for Tsinghua SIGS’s success. The graduate school plans to hire more teachers with international backgrounds in the future. More importantly, now more academic talents are willing to stay in Shenzhen. "In the past, during graduation season, our students would ask for leave to go back to Beijing to attend company career fairs at Tsinghua. However, in recent years, more and more students stay in Shenzhen and get a job locally."


Editor: A.S.