National honor for Beidou pioneer

Xu Lingchao
Yu Wenxian's work on radar target recognition, remote sensing and navigational positioning technologies contributed to the nation's defense and benefited people's daily lives.
Xu Lingchao

Yu Wenxian, head of Shanghai Beidou Research Institute and the School of Electronic Information and Electrical Engineering of Shanghai Jiao Tong University, was one of 10 former servicemen from Shanghai in a total of 401 honored as model former servicemen at a ceremony in Beijing.

Radar target recognition, remote sensing information and navigational positioning technologies that Yu’s team developed have contributed to the nation’s defense and also improved people’s daily lives.

“The happiness in our lives often rest within what we dream of,” said Yu, who was born on a farm in suburban Songjiang District. 

At 17, Yu enrolled at the National University of Defense Technology in Changsha, Hunan Province. He majored in measurement and control technology and wireless data transmission.

Yu got his PhD in 1993 and stayed to teach at his alma mater, becoming a professor three years later, and started serving the military.

Yu spent 27 years at the university. His team developed the first sea-surveillance object identification and display system for radars in China. The SAR picture processing and target measurement system Yu designed was equipped on the ground system of China’s first remote sensing satellite.

After 15 years serving the military, Yu left the army and went back to Shanghai. At the time Jiao Tong University was looking for a dean for its School of Electronic Information and Electrical Engineering, Yu stood out among another 30 candidates.

The school was the university’s largest faculty and Yu was to manage more than 10,000 students. But for Yu, it didn’t seem to be enough.

In 2011, the university planned an innovation base to develop the cutting-edge Beidou system. Yu made another shift as an entrepreneur.

Yu’s colleagues said they still get messages from Yu discussing details of a model or business plan at 1am.

“I sleep about 6 hours each day,” Yu said. “Too many things to do then wasting time in slumber.”

Since the China Beidou Technology Innovation West Hongqiao Base opened in Qingpu District in 2013, it has gathered some 200 companies studying or manufacturing equipment for the system.

Yu has never forgotten his days as a serviceman and he has helped veterans start a business at the innovation base.

People there often mention an anecdote about Yu. In 2014, after days of intensive work, Yu was sent to hospital because of pneumonia.

“The other day I was having a random chat with the doctor, he told me the hospital is facing challenges monitoring the recovery status of patients,” Yu recalled. “I thought why not use the Beidou system to make wearable devices to monitor the patients and record data for future research?”

Yu immediately shared the idea with his colleague Pei Ling, also a professor at Jiao Tong University. The Beidou research institute got in touch with the hospital and the device is being researched.

“Innovation can often be unforeseeable and tortuous,” Yu said. “But I think that is what makes our job so valuable.”

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