Smart cities should not be considered a goal in themselves, but instead as a tool, enabling decisions to be made for the city based on data instead of guesswork. Achieving both international and local goals, such as tackling climate change, or improving public services, can be enhanced by intelligent infrastructure systems fed by a variety of data, including geospatial.
For example, a nationwide network of sensors enables a far better understanding of how to optimise energy use in a certain area, as well as how to safeguard the country against the effects of climate change. Achieving sustainability means continuing to improve quality of life while consuming less, and also ensures the country’s natural resources are not depleted beyond repair.
Smart infrastructure also unlocks the potential to develop anticipatory services, and take steps towards predicting and safeguarding against future events. By using the data input to optimise important sectors like healthcare, security, and public transport, we can also anticipate how demand on these services might change, and prevent unwanted events from happening.
The Smart Nation Sensor Platform (SNSP) is a programme by the Government Technology Agency of Singapore, which aims to use a shared network of sensors across the country to support Singapore in becoming a smart nation, and help government agencies make better planning decisions to deliver citizen-centric public services. Building a vast range of sensors into static objects such as lampposts, as well as advanced technologies such as autonomous mobile robots, brings the physical world into the digital world, and allows us to intelligently execute infrastructure plans. This system is comprised of sensing, contextualisation, and actualisation of the data that makes up the city – ensuring we realise the full potential of the data we collect by processing and implementing it effectively.
A key initiative under the SNSP is the Lamppost-as-a-Platform (LaaP) project. Under LaaP, we are using public lampposts as infrastructure to mount and power sensors, that can support a myriad of public use cases and applications. For example, sensors on these lampposts can unlock simple, energy saving functions – such as adjusting the amount of light emitted by the lamppost based on external conditions, instead of merely being on a timer – which is critical because of the monsoon conditions experienced in Singapore.
These lampposts mounted with sensors could also form a platform for more complex functions such as: providing digital navigation points for cars and autonomous robots; CCTV for security and policing parking; acoustic sensors for picking up unusual noises such as screams; hosting 5G cells; and monitoring environmental factors such as weather and pollution from neighbouring countries. Indeed, the possibilities enabled through such ‘smart lampposts’ are many and varied. When integrated, data collected from the humble but abundant lamppost allows local authorities to improve sustainability, safety of citizens, and wellbeing in the area, such as by encouraging people to stay indoors during high pollution exposure.
The future of the platform must both embody and contribute to sustainability. In urban areas around the world, populations are bursting at the seams – the technologies must enable the growing community to optimise the use of resources, and reduce consumption while still contributing to improved quality of life. Singapore is particularly reliant on other countries for natural resources, and so is tackling the question of how to achieve sustainability while meeting the UN SDGs head-on, along with leading the way in how smart city platforms can be woven into legal and economic debates.
Geospatial data provides a crucial additional layer to ensuring these technologies are fully integrated and effective at improving the lives of citizens, and to the whole network of smart city infrastructure. It enhances the contextualisation of data collected from the physical world, enabling us to understand precisely where 5G cells should be installed to maximise the range of internet around the country or map traffic and footfall in real-time to optimise transport of people around a city.
It is central to the understanding of more holistic social and economic benefits, such as the use of space in local communities, areas that would benefit most from transport investment, or optimal locations for parks and green spaces, providing ‘lungs’ for the city that improve air quality and wellbeing. Regardless of how advanced or sensitive a sensor, lacking the context of location even the most extensive data cannot be easily acted upon.
Geospatial data is made up of ‘time’ and ‘place’ – without it, digitised datasets are not connected to the real, physical world around us. Smart infrastructure provides solutions to many 21st century challenges we face, but raises questions of their own about ethical and sustainable use of technology. Enhanced by location data, and with a collaborative ‘human touch’ when it comes to making important decisions, smart cities will make daily life, and the long-term future prospects, better for its residents.
By asking these questions and implementing revolutionary technologies, Singapore hopes to drive the conversation on the potential of smart cities, and how we can make them work for the global population.