Take it from Singapore: how to shape the future of smart cities

The term ‘smart cities’ has been bandied about for years, but it’s all theoretical unless cities and companies actually take action and implement the technology needed to build urban spaces of tomorrow.

Singapore is shaping up to be a true city of the future. With its $1bn initiative ‘Smart Nation Singapore’, the city-island-nation embraces rapid digitalisation in its economy, government and society. Winner of the City Award at the Smart City Expo World Congress 2018, and ranked 6th in the top world smart cities 2018 index by the IESE Business School in Barcelona, Singapore is not slowing down. Leesa Soulodre, Deep Tech Pioneer, VC, Adjunct at Singapore Management University, presented Singapore as a case study during a panel discussion at the Masters & Robots event in Warsaw, hosted by Digital University, as an example of a city that’s tackling challenges using the latest technology. 

“In Singapore, one of the most important parts of our strategy has been a smart sensor fabric across the city,” said Soulodre. “The enablement of 5G will be a significant accelerator to what we can achieve leveraging the smart sensor fabric.” According to The Straits Times, these sensors can provide municipal authorities with data on temperature, weather, flooding and other conditions in order to monitor their city. “These sensors pool into shared data lakes which allow us to co-develop as a city and create solutions that are going to make our lives more efficient, easier, and safer,” added Soulodre. 

A ‘smart city’, according to Tomasz Jaworski, Digital Transformation Partner at Microsoft, is a city with interconnected devices that uses modern technology to more effectively use the infrastructure in the cities. However, he said that we need to know what to use the technology for. “In Poland, we want to be more efficient in the management of waste, power, water and traffic, and we want to better inform people, assist them with health, and so on…so first we need to ask ourselves – is it worth employing the technology?” said Jaworski. He later said that Microsoft’s technology is designed with several principles in mind – inclusiveness, safety, but also privacy, and accountability.

Rather than presenting a city of the future, it’s also important to discuss the implementation of simple services which are available today that citizens can benefit from, said Sebastian Grabowski, Director of IoT and Advanced Technologies at Orange Polska. On the other hand, there are some challenges standing in the way. “We need good telecom infrastructure to implement these services. That’s why we don’t have a lot of clouds to manage data. We also don’t know how to coherently manage all those sensors to use machine learning and quantum technologies,” added Grabowski. He said Orange is focusing on building fundamental telecom infrastructure with access to the Internet in order to provide citizens with its services. There is, however, a “lack of competencies to create something useful for the people,” he said, mentioning the example of trying to convince mayors, presidents and water utility CEOs to use an application for water management in households to save money and save water. 

For anyone still unsure about what a smart city is, Mateusz Jarosiewicz – an expert in smart city, e-state and digitization at the National Institute for Strategic Studies – said it best: comparing a city to a smart city is like comparing an analogue phone to a smartphone. “I perceive the combination of all technologies and ideas related to smart city as an enabler for a livable city and, as in Singapore, it allows us to do what we want to do and pursue our passions and spend more time with our loved ones,” said Jarosiewicz. He added that it’s a very big promise which is hard to deliver because the process is long and it’s hard for society to understand the advantages and not be scared of them. He added that common protocols and standards such as those in Singapore and other European cities are needed, but that there’s a big market for apps and solutions. “So let’s build this smart city and I believe it will be a magnificent future,” he said.

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Written by: Monica Zielinski