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Setting the standard worldwide: intelligent city, Smart Nation

Setting the standard worldwide: intelligent city, Smart Nation
  • Date 03 August 2015 August 2015 Good To Go
  • In This Story

As Singapore gears up to be the world’s first Smart Nation, it’s relying on standards to create a common framework for good practice and enable innovation.

Topping global league tables isn’t exactly a new state of affairs for Singapore. For the past eight years, the country has ranked first in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index. It’s also been recognised as the world’s fastest broadband nation by Ookla and the top and fastest-changing digital economy, according to Tufts University. Now, however, there’s a new label to add to the country’s impressive list of accolades and that’s ‘Smart Nation.’

While various cities around the world are experimenting with ‘smart city’ technologies to tackle issues such as street lighting, waste collection and traffic light management, Singapore has a much more ambitious and whole-of-nation vision.

Its unique ‘Smart Nation’ plan involves pulling together its world-ranked universities, multi-billion annual research and development (R&D) investments, a fast-growing community of tech start-ups and large pools of investment capital. It also centres on how the government and private sectors are using technology holistically to bring about better lives and bigger business opportunities.

Tackling tomorrow’s problems today
What’s the drive behind this new direction? The answer is the need to be forward-looking to anticipate the megatrends that will impact Singapore and the world, and to take action right now to ensure the nation is well-positioned for the future.

Like many other countries, Singapore faces challenges such as an ageing population and urban density which require a smart response. Singapore is the world’s third most densely populated nation, with nearly 8,000 people per square kilometre. And that’s only expected to rise: global trends indicate two-thirds of the world may have migrated into cities by 2030.

Also by 2030, the number of elderly people aged 65 years and above in Singapore is expected to triple to 900,000 (a one in five ratio). Those individuals will be supported by a smaller working-age population. These trends will add pressure to the healthcare system and citizens’ ability to use resources such as energy, food and water sustainably.

Urban mobility is another area of concern. Today, 64% of all travel made is within urban environments. Yet the total amount of urban kilometres travelled worldwide is expected to triple by 2050, with traffic congestion potentially bringing major cities to a standstill. In Singapore, with a population of 5.4 million, there are approximately 1 million cars on the roads. At the same time, roads take up 12% of land space. But with limited land space, it’s difficult to see how we can increase the number of vehicles or add more roads.

The Singapore Government’s response to these critical challenges is to aim to turn the country into the world’s first ’Smart Nation,’ powered by big data and analytics technologies, and next-generation sensor networks. It’s adopting a holistic approach that will see local universities, tech start-ups, R&D institutes and investment capital firms all working together to achieve its vision. At the same time, it’s encouraging technology builders and entrepreneurs from around the world to leverage Singapore’s smart infrastructure and use the nation as a ‘living lab’ to test new ideas and solutions with global potential.

This is also why Singapore is focusing on cultivating a vibrant and conducive technology start-up ecosystem, and opening up some 9,000 government data sets for the world’s tech community to use to explore and test new ideas.

Telemedicine: saving hospital resources and improving care
The work to build a Smart Nation is well underway. Take the healthcare system, for instance – to tackle the strain on resources, Singapore is looking at ways to enable preventative and out-of-hospital care.

Several public hospitals are currently conducting trials, using a tele-health rehabilitation system where data is transmitted wirelessly through sensors attached to chronic disease patients’ limbs as they carry out therapy sessions at home. Solutions like these eliminate the need for patients to travel and wait for their appointments in hospitals, and empowers them to monitor their own conditions in the comfort of their own homes. As well as maximising convenience to patients and their caregivers, this approach frees up Singapore’s scarce pool of therapists to give greater care to a larger group of patients – thus improving productivity.

Urban living: delivering better services at lower cost
Another project involves trialling the use of smart devices and applications in Singapore’s public housing flats to help elderly residents age safely and with more independence. This is being achieved through monitoring sensors and alert systems that can inform family members and neighbours when an individual is in need. Currently, the Housing Development Board (HDB) is test-running such applications in 12 HDB flats.

HDB is also working closely with government agencies and industry players to pilot a Smart Enabled Homes initiative. The aim here is to test an appropriate ICT infrastructure which could allow future residents of HDB flats enjoy more convenience and energy savings when using smart devices and applications in the comfort of their homes.

At the same time, HDB is test-bedding other smart technologies in Punggol Northshore District, including smart car parks, smart street lighting and a smart pneumatic waste conveyance system. And at least 15 trials involving more than 20 partnering companies and various public agencies are being rolled out at Jurong Lake District, where over 1,000 data sensors are being deployed to create a ‘live environment and living lab’ for Smart Nation projects, including smart queue monitoring.

Urban mobility: tackling congestion
An important part of the Smart Nation plan is to implement an intelligent and adaptable transport system which uses data to empower commuters and adjusts to their needs.

Driverless vehicles are a major focus so far. The Committee on Autonomous Road Transport for Singapore (CARTS) was formed in August 2014 to provide thought leadership and guidance on the research, development and deployment of driverless – or autonomous – vehicle (AV) technology and AV-enabled mobility concepts, and study the associated opportunities and challenges. The Government has opened more than six kilometres of public roads this year for AV trials, including sites at Jurong Lake District and on the NTU and NUS campuses.

Sensors: key for smart nation services
Underpinning the feasibility of all trials in all three areas is the Government’s pioneering Smart Nation Platform (SNP), which is designed to foster ‘Everyone, Everything, Everywhere, All-the-Time Connectivity’ through a nationwide network of more than 1,000 sensors linked to Aggregation Gateway boxes that have been deployed island-wide.

These sensor networks will collect data from busy areas such as traffic junctions, bus stops and taxi queues, then relay it back to the relevant agencies for analysis through data analytics and real-world applications. Ultimately, this will help the country’s leaders share data more efficiently and develop better insights about nationwide urban challenges. This in turn will help to build the kind of seamless services that can make life for Singapore residents more convenient and less congested.

Ensuring these services are seamless will require all devices and solutions to work together harmoniously. To this end, the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) and ITSC formed a technical committee comprising participants from industry, research institutes, universities and government agencies to develop standards. The first of these standards have been released in the form of ‘Technical References’ 38 and 40 which provide network interface standards for sensors in public areas and homes, respectively.

As well as enhancing the country’s sensor networks, the IDA is also trialling a Heterogeneous Network (HetNet), which will enable mobile users to switch seamlessly between different types of wireless networks.

Sharing the pie with tech SMEs
Other Smart Nation initiatives aim to build Singapore’s tech SMEs. An industrial estate outside the city centre houses Blocks 71, 73 and 79, Singapore’s vibrant start-up cluster. Here, visitors will find prototyping labs, start-ups, accelerator boot camps, venture capital firms and incubators located close to public and private research institutes and tertiary institutions.

The aim is to help create a close community that generates opportunities for knowledge sharing, business collaboration and deal-making. At Block 79, for instance, Infocomm Investments Pte Ltd (IIPL), the venture capital subsidiary of IDA, recently launched Singapore’s biggest all-in-one startup facility, Build Amazing Startups Here. Known as BASH, this has all the hard and soft infrastructure to grow tech businesses from idea generation to acceleration to incubation and finally, expansion, all under a single roof.

With BASH established, IIPL is exploring more partnerships with global accelerators to build on Singapore’s strong investor, corporate and start-up networks. It is also encouraging global tech start-ups to explore the huge and growing business opportunities in Asia through Singapore and the quality tech start-ups operating in the country.

Why a Smart Nation needs standards
With the Smart Nation plan currently in a ‘prototyping’ phase, harmonising the disparate definitions, technical specifications and best practices surrounding its initiatives become especially important.

That’s where standards come in. These act as a tool to ensure government agencies, planners, developers and manufacturers use a common language when talking about Smart Nation and developing new technologies and solutions.

At an international level, the International Organization for Standardisation (ISO) is currently developing a toolbox of state-of-the-art international standards – the ISO 37120 series – to provide support for the smart city approach. These include standards that can contribute to building smart cities by improving energy efficiency, increasing safety, planning sustainable urban development, developing reliable road networks and effective means of transportation, reducing pollution and dealing with water and wastewater management.

In Singapore, the Information Technology Standards Committee (ITSC) was formed in 1990 as a neutral and open platform for interested industry and government parties to come together to agree on technical standards. It’s an industry-led effort made up of volunteer members from the industry, but supported by SPRING Singapore and IDA Singapore.

An industry working group, the Internet of Things Technical Committee (IoTTC), has been set up within ITSC to identify relevant open standards and establish a set of technical references for homes and public areas with regard to the Smart Nation plan.

So far, it has developed and published a first batch of sensor network technical references. Eventually, a full set of standards will be developed, to ensure seamless information sharing across services and devices.

“The many systems and technologies that make up a Smart Nation – its sensors and wireless networks and so on – will work in harmony only through strict adherence to common standards,” says Mr Lim Chee Kean (CK Lim), CEO of Ascent Solutions and Deputy Chairman of the IoTTC.

“Think of these standards as a ‘Smart Nation vocabulary’ that provides a consistent set of working terms to ensure efficient collaboration between public and private sectors, and interoperability of smart devices and systems. Without standards, we risk having a fragmented market, with different agencies coming up with different smart solutions, making the development and distribution of productised, scalable Smart Nation solutions and policies a challenge for stakeholders who require standardisation and predictability.”

In other words, standards can help to improve collaboration and communication, allowing stakeholders to work together more efficiently towards the common Smart Nation goal.

Standards with a wide focus
To ensure Smart Nation technology fulfils its potential, a wide range of different standards will need to be established to address issues faced at different levels.

“We are currently looking at developing standards that cover the end-to-end architectural framework of the IoT to enhance the ability of smart applications and devices to work together,” says Mr Lim.

This will enable public and private sector agencies to act on real-time information and deliver improved services to citizens and businesses.

“With standards, we can integrate and analyse massive amounts of data to anticipate, mitigate and even prevent problems, for example, to intelligently reroute traffic, reduce accidents and identify crime hot spots,” Mr Lim continues.

Data security is also key. Like any other ICT system, the Smart Nation technological and communication environment – built on interconnected technology records and private information – presents vulnerabilities to cyber-attacks. The higher complexity and diversity of this environment could, in fact, determine an even higher exposure, and need for more sophisticated protection strategies.

“Standards can help organisations establish and maintain a best practice personal information management system so that they can better comply with data security legislation,” says Mr Lim.

And that’s not all. The pioneering nature of smart nation products and services, which cut across city systems and benefit different groups of end users, makes them harder to assess using conventional cost-benefit models, for instance. Going forward, new standards on such things on drawing up business cases and, particularly, best practice procurement for Smart Nation may also be required.

Fit for the future
Looking to the future, how might standards enable further Smart Nation innovation?

“Most Smart Nation initiatives involve the use of new and disruptive technologies that allow things to be done that weren’t possible before. However, many of these initiatives include integrating different policies and information systems,” Mr Lim explains.

At present, service delivery through Singapore’s various vertical channels and agencies tends to operate in a ‘siloed’ fashion, where systems of information, activity and governance are isolated from each other. This is a challenge, as there are many areas where information gathered through the country’s infrastructure for one service is relevant to another service.

“This is an area where Smart Nation standards have a really important part to play,” Mr Lim continues. “They can help break down those ‘silos’ between agencies and promote a participatory approach to setting and delivering new Smart Nation strategies and initiatives.”

“By providing the basic framework which helps everyone involved agree what constitutes good practice and how they will follow it, standards have a key role to play in the construction and development of the Smart Nation plan – today and tomorrow,” Mr Lim concluded aptly.

Last Updated on : 08 Jan 2016