Urban solutions in smart cities are dramatically changing the way people live, work and play. Most of us may already be used to living in an on-demand world, where we simply whip out our mobile phones for daily tasks such as booking a taxi or streaming a movie.
In the next decade, the on-demand way of living may well be overtaken by smart solutions that can anticipate our wants, noted Mr Lars Regar, Chief Technology Officer of NXP Semiconductor, who was a panellist at the Singapore Week of Innovation and TeCHnology (SWITCH) 2020.
In his vision of a smart city, Mr Regar predicted a gradual shift to what he sees as an “ahead-demand” way of living, where digital assistants – controllable from one’s mobile phone – take over humans’ day-to-day tasks. For example, an application that cools your living room at your desired temperature minutes before you arrive home; or, a smart fridge that triggers a delivery order when milk is running low.
Test beds for smart technology are sprouting globally as the race to develop infrastructure and smart applications to transform everyday urban living intensifies.
Punggol Northshore, for instance, is Singapore’s first smart-enabled public housing district that allows residents to enjoy the benefits of smart and sustainable living. Over 3,000 flats are equipped with smart sockets, installed by local digital security solutions provider V-Key, as well as smart distribution boards that allow residents to track their energy usage across their appliances.
Other notable projects in Singapore include the JTC Clean Tech Park, an eco-business park where public-private collaborators test green solutions such as wastewater optimisation; and Marina Bay District, a vibrant downtown spot that is home to the iconic Gardens by the Bay. The Gardens is in itself a testament to the Singapore government’s commitment on green technologies. For example, much of the concrete used in the construction of the Gardens contains recyclable material. In addition, solar photovoltaic panels are used to power the Gardens’ office and its Family Forest.
Smart cities do not evolve overnight; much work behind the scenes is needed. There are three elements that work hand in glove that make cities smart. First, technology. This is characterised by high-speed communication networks, open data portals and an essential mass of smartphones and sensors. Second, applications that translate data into insights, acting as tools to solve problems. Lastly, widespread usage of applications by the public to increase the likelihood of success, and for continuous improvement.
Forging ahead through co-creation
In fact, active collaboration between the public and private sectors often breeds success. An example is the Singapore-based Smart Urban Co-Innovation Lab, Southeast Asia's first industry-led lab for smart cities solutions development, launched by CapitaLand in October 2020. It is a public-private initiative to discover market needs and develop viable smart urban solutions for deployment.
Supported by Enterprise Singapore (ESG) and Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), the Smart Urban Co-Innovation Lab focuses on six key industry verticals, namely advanced manufacturing, digital wellness, intelligent estates, smart mobility, sustainability, and urban agriculture.
Also speaking at SWITCH 2020, Dr Johnny Wong, Group Director of the Building & Research Institute of the Housing & Development Board (HDB) noted that co-creation is key in the development of urban solutions that transform the lives of its residents. He shared that the HDB partners the private sector to brainstorm on the technologies to bring to towns, to improve residents’ quality of living. In addition, HDB engages residents regularly to gather feedback on what matters to them.
“We want to make sure that when we introduce technology, it is future proof and can be upgraded easily,” he said.
More than that, “the smartness should be invisible”, he added. This means that users should not have to struggle to learn how to use the smart solutions, therefore the user interface must be intuitive.
All eyes are now on Tengah, a state-of-the-art public housing project in Jurong that comes with a central cooling system in selected precincts, roads that run underground so residents can stroll or cycle safely in a car-light environment and homes that are equipped with smart light sensors and an automated waste management system.
Making urban solutions inclusive
Yet, experts at SWITCH 2020 cautioned that not everyone can keep up with the dizzy pace of technology development. An example is the elderly and those who simply reject technology, possibly out of fear, inconvenience or security concerns.
Indeed, as new urban solutions become ubiquitous, industry players must ensure that they are safe by design and ethical, Mr Regar said.
To make smart cities a place for everyone, it is key to try and understand the detractors. In this regard, Dr Wong shared that HDB has conducted behavioural studies to uncover the reasons behind people’s resistance, so that they can help them overcome the barriers.
Impetus from the pandemic
The pandemic has accelerated the development and roll-out of urban solutions. For one, contactless payment with the use of a mobile phone has climbed as consumers baulk at exchanging money and having to key in their PIN numbers at point-of-sales terminals.
The pandemic has also fuelled the rise of telemedicine. Amid lockdowns, more and more people are open to consulting a doctor at home using their mobiles, and having their medicine delivered to their homes. Singapore-based telemedicine startup Doctor Anywhere is one such established player in the emerging telehealth sector that is thriving as virtual healthcare becomes the new norm.
In a post-COVID world, the future of life and work will further transform as smart cities evolve.
A new paradigm – a city characterised by autonomous buses, drones that deliver medicine and other goods or solutions that take away the pain of finding a parking lot, for instance – could soon become a reality.
Are you up to ride the wave? Check out the opportunities to grow your urban solutions business now.