A smart city is an urban area that uses different types of electronic Internet of Things (IoT) sensors to collect data, using it to manage assets, resources and services efficiently. Smart cities look at all aspects like mobility, public safety, governance and health, improving existing local institutions, digitising access to employment while maintaining the security of their citizens, and Singapore is a nation that is recognised for its efforts in successfully doing this.
In 2014, Singapore announced its Smart Nation initiative which encourages the use of digital innovation and technology to drive sustainability and liveability. There are three key pillars which support the goals of the initiative: Digital economy, digital government and digital society - where not only the government, but the people and the agencies have an important role to play. Singapore was able to use its smart nation strategy to the best of its ability by setting key milestones for each year - focusing on specific areas to improve and digitise, allowing citizens and businesses to adapt and learn.
According to the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office, the initiative’s “priority is to harness technology to address national challenges and drive transformation in key domains: health, education, transport, urban solutions, and finance.”
In a country where the number of elderly citizens is expected to reach 900,000 by 2030, and with a declining old-age support ratio with low birth rates, it is imperative that healthcare is made more proactive to guide people to take pre-emptive steps to keep themselves healthy or better manage their well-being. The Smart Nation and Digital Government Office have introduced initiatives to make the monitoring of personal health easier and more accessible.
One of the initiatives introduced was TeleHealth, which offers integrated and seamless care to meet healthcare needs, allowing therapists to offer their services to larger groups of people, improving productivity and optimising resources to overcome manpower constraints. TeleHealth is accessible to everyone, and has seen the introduction of applications allowing video consults or chat consults with GPs and specialists with the use of TeleRehab, where patients are able to undergo rehabilitation exercises from home through the use of wearable sensors, which are monitored by therapists and clinicians who can offer care remotely. This initiative also helps cut down long queues in waiting rooms for patients and their caregivers, improving efficiency and saving time.
Another initiative introduced was HealthHub, a web portal and mobile application that is slated to be Singapore’s first one-stop online health information and services portal. Key features of this include access to personal hospital records and medical records, medical appointments, lab test results and a directory of healthcare facilities available islandwide, enabling Singaporeans to be more aware and in charge of their own health and history.
Due to the scarcity of land and growing population in Singapore, the goal is to optimise use of the limited space (about 12% of land set aside for roads and transport infrastructure) for more efficient, safe, reliable and enhanced transportation.
Two of the main initiatives introduced in transport are contactless fare payment for public transport and autonomous vehicles. With the population of Singapore relying more on smartphones, in 2019 the Land Transport Authority (LTA) launched an Account-Based Ticketing (ABT) System with Mastercard, called SimplyGo, which enables commuters to use contactless Mastercard bank cards or mobile phones to pay for their travel on public transport - removing the need to carry a separate travel card like the EZ-Link card which requires top ups before travelling. The SimplyGo application also allows users to view their travel history and expenditure.
According to the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office, “Self-driving technology has the potential to radically transform our transport system and improve our living environment. We are exploring the application of self-driving technology to public transport not only to bring in new forms of shared mobility, but also to address the constraints we face in land and manpower.” Singapore has already succeeded in introducing self-driving technology (SDV) to the island, with Auto Rider, the first fully operational SDV in Asia, which aims to enhance connectivity at the tourist attraction Gardens by the Bay, and provide visitors with an alternative, revolutionary mode to get around. It is an electric powered, air-conditioned vehicle which can seat up to 10 people. In addition, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) has a driverless shuttle bus which travels a 500m route connecting student halls with the main academic areas, it shuttles up to 300 passengers daily, and aims to eventually travel across the entire campus.
The LTA has also signed agreements with companies like ST Kinetics to develop autonomous vehicle technologies on buses which will use satellite-based GPS technology and sensors to scan immediate surroundings and determine their location. Singapore has also allowed trials for trucks and heavier vehicles to be road tested.
The adoption of digital technology in education can create an open, conducive environment for effective learning and communication between teachers, parents and students. With the aim of allowing teachers to focus on teaching by elevating administrative workload, in January 2019, the Ministry of Education and the Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech), jointly launched a mobile application called Parents Gateway, which “acts as a channel for convenient two-way communication between schools and parents.”
Parents Gateway enhances convenience for parents, allowing them to perform administrative tasks through the application such as providing consent for their children to participate in activities and stay updated on what activities their children are involved in. By streamlining the manual admin process such as using hardcopy forms and distribution, collection and collation of documents when engaging with the parents through their children, the app is also beneficial to teachers, who can focus on lesson preparation and student engagement. The application also adopts a “forever beta” approach in order to be more responsive to necessary changes and remain relevant.
With limited land space, the Smart Nation initiative aims to continuously find solutions to improve Singapore’s urban environment, estates and homes, to make them safer, more sustainable and more liveable.
Singapore’s Housing & Development Board (HDB)’s Smart HDB Town Framework consists of a five pronged approach to introduce smart into housing estates which includes smart planning, smart environment, smart estate, smart living and smart community - all of which capture real time information, using data analytics and smart technologies to analyse data and optimise it to engage with residents and enhance living environments while also using the information to derive optimal and cost effective solutions for urban design technologies in HDB towns. The framework is supported by the HDB Smart Hub, which acts as the brain for HDB estate operations by collecting and integrating multiple sources of information to provide insights to facilitate better town planning and building designs. Residents of Smart HDB Towns can also look forward to sustainability initiatives such as smart lighting, pneumatic waste conveyance systems, and the SolarNova program which looks to accelerate the deployment of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems in Singapore.
In addition to Smart Homes, as it is in a dengue-endemic region and remains vulnerable and at risk of dengue outbreaks, Singapore has introduced the use of drones to survey dengue hotspots which are able to reach heights unsafe to be checked using traditional methods. These drones are also equipped to dispense larvicide and eradicate mosquito breeding habitats.
With Singapore’s pro-business environment and connectivity to major Asian economies, it continues to attract businesses and talent in the region. Singapore is also working towards nurturing FinTech environment that supports innovation in the financial sector where institutions are able to test new technologies safely. The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) set its sights on creating a Smart Financial Centre where technology is used in the financial industry to increase efficiency, create economic opportunities and allow for better risk management. The MAS also opened a FinTech Innovation Lab, where the community can connect, collaborate and co-create with one another, and issued “Regulatory Sandbox” guidelines for FinTech experiments.
There is a lot to be learnt from Singapore’s simple and comprehensive Smart Nation module which focuses on both businesses and residents, allowing those from any industry to enhance their productivity by incorporating digital technology to drive transformation and address any challenges. Singapore’s strategy of setting key goals in each domain proves successful as it is able to focus its efforts smaller tasks that are part of bigger goals.