Singapore: already over Big Data with Smart Data

Written by  Thomas Cibils, swissnex Singapore

Singapore, Smart City, Smart Nation – it is almost like a slogan. Singapore knows how to produce Big Data, and how use them to improve everyday’s life. The Lion City is known for being a smart place, creating a considerable amount of data on a variety of topics. The Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, put a strong emphasis on the use of technology on the broadest possible topics during the launch of the “Smart Nation Program Office” in November 2014. “The Smart Nation is not just a slogan”, he said, “it is a rallying concept for all of us to work together to transform our future together because there are endless possibilities waiting to be dreamed of”. In this article the potential of big data and its transformation into smart data in Singapore will be presented.


Smart tree

A good illustration of this forward-going state of mind is the Singaporean transportation system (SMRT), transporting around 6 millions of people daily. Both metro and bus are accessible with the same RFID card that one can buy at SGD 5 (= 3.75 USD), and that is charged using cash or credit card. As a customer, one simply tap it when one gets in the system, tap it when one gets out, and it takes on the card a small amount, dependant on the length of travel. It is simple, user friendly, and generates a wealth of information. Indeed, the company can gather the exact number of people who enter the system at a given point and a given time, as well as their destination. It has an exact and extremely precise map of all the travels – Big Data, thus allowing to determine with the highest precision how to allocate its resources. Other metro systems, for instance requiring only to check the ticket at the entry, do not offer this level of precision, as the outing point of the travelers is not known.

Once collected, these data are compiled by different actors, and turned in Smart Data. Researchers from the Future City Laboratory, a programme under the Singapore-ETH Center (1) , use it in various and value-creating ways. First, they created very intuitive ways of visualizing it, to change the Big Data in understandable figures for the deciders – Smart Data. We present here below two examples.

Isochrone Map

Isochrone map showing mobility of Singapore public transportation

This picture shows which points a traveler can reach in less than 30 and 60min from a given point in Singapore – here, the city center. The interactive map allows the user to click in any point in Singapore and generates automatically the isochrone map. Using the Big Data provided by LTA, this map displays a high level of precision.

Interchange patterns

The second picture shows the interchange patterns of Singapore public transport movement at different scales: (a) the city scale, (b) the regional scale, and (c) the road network scale. At any given scale, it shows how many people get in the transportation system, how many get out of it, and how many transfer from one spatial unit to the other. More detailed information on this visualization can be found here.

The Future City Laboratory not only works on displaying Big Data, but they also created models to fit them, and to build a very efficient forecast on a city-wide scale. For instance, they are able to see the very precise effect of adding a new bus line, and to study its impact on phenomena such as bus bunching, vehicle overcrowding, congestion, and customer behavior in general. Again, thanks to Big Data, this is done in a highly detailed way, and provides a critical tool for decision-makers. The models include sharp-edged tools, such as, for instance, a simulation of the fact that users learn and change their behavior from one day to the other to find the best alternatives.

Other actors are also involved in the smart transportation. On the 2nd of June 2014, a collaboration between the Land Transport Authority of Singapore, SMRT, IBM and Starhub (one of the major mobile operators), has been initiated. All together they will not only use the RFID data, but also the video files from the security camera to track the travelers, as well as the anonymised phone calls, as a massive dataset. “City leaders can now monitor, measure and manage a wide range of city services to predict future effects and perform “what-if” scenario analysis to proactively manage the negative impacts of an unplanned incident or special event,” said Ms Janet Ang, Managing Director from IBM Singapore.

It should be emphasised that Singapore’s Big Data and Smart City Program is in no ways limited to the transportation application, and that this is only one relevant example. Big and Smart Data appear also for instance in the Housing and Development Board, which introduced a Smart Elderly Monitoring and Alert System, in which home sensors can alert caregivers or neighbours when it detects anything out of the ordinary. Such huge comparable developments are also assessed in the Smart Government Administration, the Smart Education, the Smart Medical Care, between lots of others. This Smart City development in many of areas is a strategic choice for Singapore.
Finally, this development of a “smart city” generates interest abroad and represents a model for other countries to emulate. And to give a measure of this, China, for instance, shows a lot of interest in collaborating with Singapore in this field.

(1) The Singapore-ETH centre is established by ETH Zurich and the National Research Foundation (NRF) of Singapore, as part of the NRF’s Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise (CREATE).

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