Smart cities: The way of the future?

Smart cities promise to improve our working lives, enhance our leisure as well as help restore the environment. Through the power of technology, many of the problems we face today, from traffic jams to pollution, will be eased or solved entirely. Leading the charge is Singapore – planning to become the world’s first smart city-state.

Singapore has around 5.5 million residents within just 277 square miles, so optimising space is critical. But Singapore’s size and density are assets when it comes to being a smart city. It’s easier and cheaper to network a small geographic area versus a larger country.

Transformation through the Internet of Things

This makes it easier for Singapore to take necessary action. The Internet of Things (IoT), for example, will play a key role in the future of this smart city. Everything will be networked, from home appliances and vehicles to delivery and waste management systems, with sensors and smart devices communicating directly.

To do this, advanced and speedy internet infrastructure is required, with huge bandwidth. Singapore is committing $15 billion in its next budget to economic development, including $590 million specifically for “info-communications and media”.

Trial projects are already up and running. Beeline is an app that uses crowdsourced requests and anonymised public transport data to offer a demand-driven way of commuting. Self-driven shuttles are also being tested in certain areas. The Port of Singapore is developing autonomous truck platooning technology to transport cargo between terminals.

In a similar industry, the Land Transport Authority is conducting a six-month trial that allows for contactless mobile payment when using a wrist device. These ‘SmartBands’ are being tested for convenience and quicker payment when dealing with partner merchants and public transit.

Smart monitoring systems are being used in the homes of elderly people, and smart technologies are also being introduced for car parks and areas that are not well lit.

Filling the tech skills gap

The rise of smart cities means big demand for those highly skilled in technology. Singapore is setting up the TechSkills Accelerator scheme to train citizens with digital skills and fill gaps in startups, finance and healthcare. The government will also work with employers to hire and pay people based on skills rather than academic qualifications.

But the boom of information communication technologies presents challenges as well as opportunities. Cybersecurity and data privacy are two key issues that require careful consideration. Networked systems must be strongly set up and backup options need to be implemented in the event of technical failures.

The benefits of being a smart city extend far beyond making people’s lives easier and improving sustainability. It will transform Singapore into an innovation hub – increasing foreign investment and enabling the city to export technology. Companies such as Facebook and Google have already opened offices in the region, and there could be more to come if Singapore achieves its vision.

It also looks like South Korea has big plans to become a smart city – it recently launched its first commercial, low-cost IoT network.

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