Smart Cities

Fifty shades of smart cities, key trends & issues

Singapore Smart Cities Summit

Held on 30 August 2019 at JW Marriott South Beach, the Singapore Smart Cities Summit saw over 350 participants from the region and beyond coming together to accelerate smart cities innovation and initiatives. Corporate innovators, industry disruptors, investors and startups from 18 countries which includes the USA, UK, Philippines, Mexico, Swaziland, among others took part in the summit. 

Organized by igloohome, the summit featured over 30 panellists ranging from CEOs, scientists, investors, corporate innovators and journalists. They shared insights covering sustainability, smart city trends, issues and more in the one-day event. 

In one of our panel discussions, we spoke with Ian Chadsey, Director at Jones Lang LaSelle (JLL), one of the largest real estate firms globally; and Brian Tan, Deputy Director from Action Community for Entrepreneurship (ACE) about the trends and issues of smart cities. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, Vincent Tobias from Ayala Corporation, could not make it. Moderated by igloohome's Marketing Director, Shermaine Koh, we've extracted key learnings from the panel.

Shermaine: What do you think is a smart city?

Brian: There are many definitions of smart cities as there are various aspects that go into it. If you're looking at city-wide implications of smart technologies, you could be looking at e-payment or smart parking apps which are very convenient. Or you can look at other aspects in terms of urban environment, like using drones for example, to look at certain facilities for maintenance, inspection or security; you also have the smart home trend that's coming up now, which I think igloohome can play a very big part in. There's also transportation, in terms of autonomous vehicles, some are talking about drone taxis too.

If we look at all these aspects of what I think a smart city is, you'll see that there's a common trend. It's really using technology to make the city a little more visible and sustainable. We always have these buzz words of liveability and sustainability, what does it really mean? It's using technology to make lives more convenient, making things efficient and essentially, making our lives a little bit happier. That's how I would define it.

Ian: My idea is of what smart cities is, is a set of policies using technology and data that focuses on three movements.

One, as Bryan mentioned, focuses on the people. It's making sure that the cities are liveable and that the people are happily living inside these cities. The second one is about government policies - making government regulations, and making governments more efficient and sustainable. The last one, which is pretty important, is about business. It's making sure that businesses can thrive and compete in an open and transparent environment.

Shermaine: What you can see in common is that smart cities is very much about sustainability and liveability - why is there a need for the drive towards smart cities?

I think smart cities are no longer a want or desire, it's actually a need. - Ian Chadsey

Ian: There's a UN report on how we could be be over-populated, 7 million people are going to move into cities which will put major strain onto the city's infrastructure. It's going to affect socio-economic issues, overall environment, healthcare and the like. So again, smart cities are no longer about cool gadgets or widgets like having drones delivering pizzas. It's about how to make cities more liveable, how we can sustain the cities and making sure that we can actually survive and live happily inside these cities.

Brian: I agree that smart cities have transformed from a want to a need, but I want to go back to this ingrained desire by society and people to have that kind of improvement in the city or in their lives. I think the reason why there's a little more focus on smart cities in recent times is due to the technology that enables that.

If you rewind maybe 10, 20 years ago, people are talking about liveable and sustainable cities. Now, we're talking about smart cities because technology has reached the stage where we've really entrusted a new revolution. If you're talking about computing power, your phone has more computing power now compared to your desktop 10 years ago - and you're talking about accessibility to this kind of technology. It's about connectivity, WiFi and in the future, 5G. These new technologies open up possibilities and that's why we're looking at smart cities.

Shermaine: What trends do you see emerging in smart cities' development and initiatives then?

Ian: There are a few trends actually, and Bryan mentioned some. 5G is one of the rising ones - South Korea has already rolled out 5G in their country, so we're going to start seeing a lot of changes from here. You'll no longer be tied to Starbucks for your WiFi computers, you'll be able to use high-speed Internet anywhere. Which will then also change things like drones, delivery vehicles, autonomous taxis, buses etc. 5G is going to make a huge difference for cities compared to how they are today.

Cities are now focused on the human aspect of it, it's no longer the technology or gadgets but about how the cities support the people living inside it. - Ian Chandsey

Another, is the rise of proptech, and we're definitely passionate about that. With buildings getting smarter, we're beginning to see solar panels built into windows so that they're actually able to become self-sufficient. We have buildings that collect water and reuse them; buildings that turn lights off and control where the AC is running according to where people are. From that, they're starting to network and talk to each other, so what we're going to see in the future is all these buildings that are connected working together. Those are the big ones.

Brian: I would agree that 5G would be a huge, new trend in the smart city space. Not just a real-time kind of activity but also enabling real-time communication between entities of smart cities.

One new trend that may come into play would be climate change too. If you woke up this morning and saw a huge thunderstorm, and on your way here it's sunny now, you've probably figured that there's something going on with our climate. How do smart cities respond to that? Using AI to either predict, manage and mitigate these results from changes of our environments. Also, looking at new technology like corporations looking for new materials, like biodegradable packing and the like, I think will be some of the trends that are going to come up.

Shermaine: Seeing that both of you have spoken about 5G, I can't miss this. Coming from igloohome, I tell people that we're releasing a range of connected locks as well. Can you share what are some of the experiences or challenges you've had working on smart cities related projects and developments?

Ian: There are quite a few challenges we've run into. One, is the fact that there are so many different definitions out there. Even within Asia, there are multiple, and that's one of the largest challenges.

The other one is with government regulations and governments tend to fall behind. Take Airbnb for example, they came into Singapore but regulations fell behind so the service isn't available in Singapore now. To support that in the future, though difficult to say, the government needs to be quick on their toes and quickly adapt to what's going on. Imagine when 5G comes out, things will move at higher speeds and the government needs to pick up.

Another one we see is cultural differences. What works in Tokyo won't necessarily work in Singapore. Each city is trying to solve its own needs. Jakarta's picking up the entire government and moving it to another city in Indonesia, but their major factor has to do with climate change. Again, each city is trying to resolve different issues.

Brian: I agree that there are a lot of definitions out there about smart cities. I think it's good that cities aspire to be smart but it's really about figuring out what we see as a smart city and how to get there. Singapore has its advantages - it's small, we have the kind of ecosystem to support smart city growth; but there are a lot of developing cities, countries, if you're talking about just street lighting services - that could be smart to them too.

Moving onto inclusiveness, if you're talking about smart cities and the end result is making it more liveable or human-centric, how do we make sure that all aspects of society actually benefit from it? I'll give you an example, I was out of cash at a drive through and asked if I could use e-payment but the attendant still asked for cash. I had to go back to the ATM regardless. It's no use if I'm using smart technology and the vendors aren't; being inclusive means trying to educate the people, getting them on board and giving them that kind of access to technology so we can all be smart.

Lastly, data privacy is also an issue. If you're looking at all these smart tech, data goes into it whether its your location, face or identity, where you're going even just by tapping through public transport etc, that's a really huge challenge. - Brian Tan

Ian: I really agree with data privacy. As we start building these cities, we'll collect more and more data. Some are okay with it but for others, it's a big challenge. You see Google and Facebook, and what some of these companies are doing - collecting massive amounts of data. That is something that we collectively - people, governments, institutions - need to understand what we're doing with that data, how we're securing it, how we ensure it stays safe and that we're clear in understanding what we're using it for.

If you wish to be part of the Singapore Smart Cities Summit this year, visit smartcitiessummit.igloohome.co for more information or drop us an email at summit@igloohome.co.