How the future will look for the world’s great cities is a tantalising exercise in imagination and the piecing together of the trends in the latest technology in the world. AI-controlled infrastructure for sewer systems to drainage and even maintenance schedules, sensors everywhere, cash a thing of the past and transport systems built around driverless cars, flying taxis and Hyperloop tubes spring to mind. But one major global metropolis is already at least part of the way there. The city-state of Singapore is leading the way when it comes to the race to become the world’s first truly ‘smart city’.
An ambitious 5-year plan has recently been launched by GovTech, the Singapore government’s technology office. The execution of the plan will see infrastructure, public services and bureaucracy all overhauled by the implementation of some of the latest technology in the world. Kok Ping Soon, GovTech’s chief executive admits that the timeline set for the execution of Singapore’s smart city project is a tight one as he says “our vision is vast”. But he also thinks the goals set out to be achieved over the next half decade will be achieved and will lead to a better standard of living for Singaporeans. The creation of thousands of new jobs is also an expected outcome.
A central pillar to the 5-year plan for a ‘smart’ Singapore is the ‘Smart National Sensor Platform’. It is to include the fitting of 12,000 lamposts across the city with facial recognition sensors. Other sensors will alert authorities to the danger of drainpipe overfill during monsoon season and even swimming pools will be fitted with motion sensors that will send an alarm signal if they detect patterns of movement that indicate someone in them may be in danger of drowning.
As well as sensors, blockchain technology applications are being beta tested across a wide range of bureaucratic processes and driverless vehicles are also being tested in limited locations. It is hoped that a driverless public transport network that includes buses will be a reality before the end of the 5-year period. An ambitious AI-powered facial recognition system may also mean Singapore’s Jewel Changi airport becomes the first in which international passengers can disembark from planes and enjoy a frictionless short walk out into the city without the need for passport control.
Another system built on cutting-edge technology, the ‘Networked Trade Platform’ has the ambition to streamline the bureaucracy involved in the port-city’s huge freight and cargo traffic. The movement of goods in and out of Singapore’s ports would become as automated and frictionless as coming in and out through the airport should soon be.
Singapore’s tech-driven ambitions are a tantalising prospect. Post-Brexit Britain, against the backdrop of fears around customs chaos and a struggling economy, will do worse than to keep a close eye on developments. Perhaps, one day soon, Singapore will become the model for a smart London and Britain.