A Smart Nation Rising

The Singapore government has outlined its bold ambition to become the world's first Smart Nation. Building on the success of its Intelligent Nation 2015 (iN2015) master plan, the Republic is looking to further transform itself into a better place to live, work and play by tapping on transformational infocomm and media (ICM) technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), big data and analytics.

Since its launch in 2006, iN2015 has laid the groundwork for Singapore's smart nation transformation, with the development of a ubiquitous and robust high-speed infocomm infrastructure, a competitive infocomm industry with a talented workforce, and high adoption rates of broadband and infocomm technology (ICT) amongst individuals, homes and businesses. Now, even as Singapore is working on its next 10-year masterplan – focusing on developing smart communities – the government has already set in motion several major initiatives that will shape the future.

Spearheading Development

In his opening address at the Infocomm Media and Business Exchange (imbX) in June 2014, Minister for Communications and Information Dr Yaacob Ibrahim noted that as cities continue to grow, demands on urban infrastructure will also increase and resources will become scarcer, and said it is therefore imperative to develop smart communities which are driven by intelligence, integration and innovation. The minister also said that a Smart Nation can become a reality by successfully combining policy, people and technology in a concerted fashion.

A key component in this is the Smart Nation Platform (SNP), which is built around three focus areas: Connect, Collect and Comprehend.

Under Connect, Singapore will strengthen its communications backbone, and extend connectivity through the progressive deployment of Above Ground (AG) Boxes and the Heterogeneous Network (HetNet). The AG Boxes will provide street level connectivity points by supplying points for fibre access and power, and the ready common communications infrastructure for sensor deployment. The HetNet will allow everyone and everything to be always connected via the best available network to serve their connectivity needs with a high speed, everywhere, at anytime.

Under Collect and Comprehend, the government will roll-out an operating system where public agencies can plug into essential sensor data. This data would be protected and managed before being shared. Insights gained from this data would pave the way for the government and public agencies to resolve issues before they are raised by the general public, allowing citizens to be better served through improved policy planning and the creation of citizen-centric services. For instance, better data and analysis would allow more cleaners to attend to public housing estates that have more litter.

Test Beds and Trials

Dr Yaacob also announced that the upcoming Jurong Lake District (JLD) will be the test-bed for these new Smart Nation technologies. Located in the western part of the island state, JLD will be the largest commercial and regional centre outside Singapore’s Central Business District. It is envisioned to be a mixed-used urban precinct characterised by sustainable development and connectivity.

Starting from the third quarter of 2014, the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) will be rolling out at least 15 trials in partnership with other public agencies and involving more than 20 partnering companies. Over 1,000 data sensors will be deployed in three main areas: urban mobility, sustainability, and improving sensing and situational awareness.

One such pilot is the uClim, a web-based service that aims to empower planners with real-time environmental information such as temperature, relative humidity and air quality to enable them to monitor and analyse microclimates. Led by local startup BioMachines, the trial will assess the potential for urban planners, for example, to use uClim to plan, design, and take action in creating comfortable outdoor spaces for social gatherings.

Bringing Smart Technology into Homes

The minister also outlined in his speech how Singapore is looking to use technology to provide services and applications that can benefit the people. This will be through the IoT@Home initiative, which aims to enable seamless interoperability between connected smart devices in a home setting. IDA will work with the industry to identify relevant open standards and open architecture, as well as developing and testing innovative IoT applications for homes. The initiative will focus on key areas of applications that include wellness, active aging, home-based care, and sustainable living.

Besides the IDA, another public agency that is delving into the realm of smart cities technology is the Housing and Development Board (HDB). In September 2014, Singapore's public housing authority announced its Smart HDB Town Framework, which aims to leverage on information and communication technology to make HDB towns and estates more livable, efficient, sustainable and safer for residents.

The framework straddles four key pillars: Smart Planning, Smart Environment, Smart Estate and Smart Living. Under Smart Planning, HDB will be looking to introduce technologies such as Complex Systems Modelling tools, which help planners to understand the trade-offs involved when introducing new sustainable features into HDB towns.

Under Smart Environment and Smart Estate, HDB will look into linking estates with a network of sensors capturing real-time information on environmental factors such as temperature and humidity, while leveraging on Smart technologies to collect and analyse data, which helps to optimise maintenance cycles and pre-empt problems.

With these technologies in place, HDB could introduce innovative new solutions. For example, smart fans located in common areas can be triggered when certain thresholds of temperature and humidity are reached. Meanwhile, lightings fitted with sensors, installed in the common areas, can help HDB to understand human traffic patterns and optimise the provision of lighting to save energy.

Under Smart Living, HDB will provide digital infrastructure in flats to pave the way for intelligent homes. With these infrastructures in place, residents will be able to tap on Smart home applications developed by commercial companies that can enhance energy savings, and enable them to access services like healthcare in the comfort of their homes. Such applications include Smart Elderly Alert Systems for families who may wish to monitor elderly relatives to keep them safe.

HDB will be test-bedding these smart technologies in the first four housing projects of its Punggol Northshore district, set to be launched in 2015.

With so much in the pipeline, the stage is truly set for Singapore to become the world's first Smart Nation. And although such a vision will take time and effort to see to fruition, the commitment and careful planning of the government, the roll-out of key initiatives and infrastructure, and the engagement and collaboration with businesses and the community will go a long way towards helping Singapore realise it Smart Nation future.

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