Urban Innovation

Singapore studies to get smarter

Becoming a smart city: What makes Singapore different
Becoming a smart city: What makes Singapore different

From Santander to Seoul, urban centers around the world are mapping out ambitious "smart city" blueprints. But Singapore is taking these plans to use technology to make city living more connected by aiming to become a "smart nation" within the next decade.

According to Steve Leonard, executive deputy chairman of the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, what sets Singapore apart is the city-state's relative economic and political stability.

"[In] Singapore, because of the stability, we're able to plan long term," Leonard told CNBC on Tuesday.

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"There are a lot of individual cities around the world that have aspirations to do something. The challenge is those governments continue to have different priorities [and] sometimes those smart cities initiatives come unstuck," he said.

At 700 square kilometers, Singapore, of course, is also a much more compact country compared its peers, making it easier to scale up successful initiatives.

Singapore’s smart push

Last year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong launched Singapore's Smart Nation initiative, setting up a Smart Nation Program Office to coordinate efforts by various government agencies.

Simultaneously, the government assigned Jurong Lake District, a former industrial neighborhood located in city's suburbs, as the test-bed for smart city initiatives.

A number of pilot projects are underway in the area, including the deployment of sensors to monitor the length of taxi queues, adjust park lighting based on time of day and determine the cleanliness of public areas, the most effective of which will be implemented on a larger scale.

Singapore's smart nation initiative involves collaboration between government, academia and the city's fast-growing community of tech entrepreneurs backed by heavy investments in research and development, Leonard said.

"When we bring those together, it allows us to see further into the future and think about bigger problems like ageing population, urban density, transportation and healthcare just to name a few," he said.

Peeking into the future

Key components of Singapore's smart nation are transportation and elderly care. The country is home to a rapidly ageing population, with the number of its senior citizens forecast to triple over the next 15 years.

"Technology can help them to live independently in their own communities with their own support networks, and give their children peace of mind. Especially if we can integrate sensors, apps, remote monitoring, to help our seniors to age in place, to connect with other seniors, and to stay in touch with their children and their grand-children, and their caregivers," Prime Minister Loong said in a speech at Founders Forum Smart Nation Singapore on Monday.

Several public hospitals are currently trialing a tele-health rehabilitation system where data is transmitted wirelessly through sensors attached to patients' limbs as they carry out therapy sessions at home. This is to eliminate the need for elderly patients to travel and wait for their appointments in hospitals.

Being the world's third most densely populated nation, an efficient transportation system is also central to Singapore's plans.

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"Land is scarce in Singapore. Already, we are one of the most densely populated countries in the world, and we can't keep on building more and more roads indefinitely, becoming like Los Angeles," said Loong.

"We have got to find solutions, using technology, using data, to make our transport more efficient and to improve the commuting experience – through information for commuters, through responsive management of public transport systems, through smart city planning to minimize long and unproductive commutes."

Singapore is currently rolling out sensors across the island to collect data from busy areas such as traffic junctions, bus stops and taxi queues, which will then be relayed back to the relevant agencies for analysis. This is aimed at helping the government gain insights into urban challenges and build services to make life for commuters more fluid and less congested.