How Singapore Is Using the IoT to Build a Smart-Nation Platform

Chan Cheow Hoe, Singapore's chief information officer, says Internet of Things technologies are playing a role in most of the city-state's projects regarding transportation, health care and environmental sustainability.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor

IOT Journal: In how much of your day-to-day job are you working on projects related to the IoT?

Chan: The IoT is really nascent and evolving, so how you define it changes all the time. Really, almost everything we do in the government connects to IoT. The big thing with IoT is really about connecting devices to the core infrastructure. So we're building what we call a smart nation platform and we're seeking to connect everything. IoT is really general, and can encompass anything from a TV to sensors to cameras.

Let's start with transportation. Like any island nation, [transportation] has always been a big issue in Singapore. One thing that becomes apparent is that most countries try to build their way out of the problem. You build more roads, train lines, more infrastructure. But it's getting impossible to do that in Singapore, so the focus is more about optimization. How can we make better use of the existing infrastructure? Whether you're talking roads or train lines, utilization is actually pretty low. There are two peak hours in the morning and at night, where they are at 150 percent capacity, but then in the middle of the day it's like 30 percent capacity. So how do you optimize the use of the infrastructure? That is where IoT comes to the plate.

Many people in Singapore take busses, which are efficient except that when going from point A to point B, you might have to make 25 stops. That is how it's designed. Is that a good thing? Well most people do not want have to make so many stops, it can take an hour to get to work. So one of the things we did is use big data, based on the RFID fare cards, which gives us information on all the journeys—what time individuals get on the bus, how far they travel, where they get off. And when our guys analyzed the data, they found a logical congregation of people going from one point to another, so this how we decided to start what we call a Beeline service. With that, if you have 80 people who want to go from one point to the next, they go direct. It became quite popular.

IOT Journal: So these are essentially express bus routes, but provided by private shuttle companies, and users book the rides using the Beeline smartphone app, so that routes and timetables are activated by community demand?

Chan: Yes, it is dynamic, because it is based on the way people move [which changes over time] and suggests routes that are economically feasible for the bus companies to run. So that's one example of how we use data. A lot of the IoT is about data, and I think that is something that people do not realize. Most of the time, it's about how you use data to optimize certain things. We use data as much as we can to get people away from driving.

IOT Journal: We recently read about an autonomous car pilot program in Singapore, whereby individuals will be able to hail driverless taxis with their smartphones. It sounds like you're trying to beat Uber to the punch in getting those cars on the road.

Chan: It's a limited trial at the moment. AVs [autonomous vehicles] are a big thing at the moment, and there is a presupposition that autonomous vehicles will increase efficiency. I think that one of the things about AV [that people do not talk about] is that it's also about the last mile. In any urban environment, one of the big problems is that you go from one station to another station, but getting from the station to your workplace or house is difficult. So our AV pilot is evaluating whether these vehicles can actually serve the last mile, and I think that is going to be quite useful.

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