Singapore Teams People and Tech in "Smart Nation" Initiatives

April 13, 2019 at 12:27 PM

Thanks to strong government support, Singapore has become a leader in the development, testing and implementation of self-driving vehicles, ride-sharing, mobility-as-a-service and a host of smart city initiatives. And the  city-state already is moving ahead with the next phase of its “Smart Nation” plan that promises to more actively engage citizens to help improve their daily lives.   

In addition to transportation, Singapore’s plan encompasses homes, businesses, healthcare, education, financial and other key infrastructure systems. The comprehensive initiative calls for streamlining information collected by various government agencies into a central digital identity database. Officials say the system’s cybersecurity and privacy protection safeguards use a two-factor authentication process and is regularly audited to ensure information is anonymized and only released to customer-approved organizations, with consumers maintaining ownership of their personal information.

Proponents note that Singapore’s political stability—the same party has been in power for decades—makes it easier approve and manage broad societal changes such as Smart Nation. The program is being led by Singapore’s new Government Technology Agency (GovTech). Last November, former banking executive Chan Cheow Hoe was named the organization’s deputy chief executive of product management at about the same time he was appointed Singapore’s first digital technology officer.

Making Sense of Congestion

With nearly 6 million people living on an island that encompasses less than 279 square miles, Singapore has the third highest population density in the world. As a result, the country has taken an aggressive approach to improve efficiencies, curb congestion and make better use of its infrastructure and emerging technologies. The country has limited the number of new car registrations since 2014 and last year froze registrations at current volumes.

Singapore also has installed myriad sensors to track everything from traffic patterns, energy and water use, and consumer behavior and health. By monitoring buses, Singapore was able to more precisely identify where and when buses were needed. The effort resulted in as much as a five-minute reduction in passenger wait time on popular routes, GovTech says.  

To aid communication, more than 95% of the country is networked for high-speed 4G communications. In one neighborhood, thousands of sensors have been installed to measure energy draw, waste production and water usage in real time. The system provides immediate feedback to residents to help them reduce consumption, while the government can use the data to improve planning and maintenance.  

Singapore also is working to become a cash-less society, allowing consumers to pay for public transportation, e-scooters, tolls, parking and other  services via smartphone apps and other digital methods. Nearly one million people have downloaded the Parking.sg app, which allows users to find and pre-pay for available spaces, since the system was launched in late 2017.

Next year, all new vehicles will be required to have a satellite navigation system and vehicle-to-infrastructure connectivity. This will allow the government to track real-time traffic conditions and plan for changes to improve flow.   

New Mobility

Last year Singapore was rated the second-most favorable market for autonomous vehicles—trailing only the Netherlands—in KPMG’s Autonomous Vehicle Readiness Index. Singapore was rated first among the 20 countries in terms of policy/legislation and infrastructure, and second in terms of consumer acceptance. But the city-state lagged somewhat in technology/innovation, which KPMG judged to be 8th best. The country has hosted several pilot programs over the last five years—and aims to launch a launch a self-driving bus service by 2022.  

Singapore also is one of the few countries to issue national standards for self-driving vehicles. The favorable regulatory climate has attracted carmakers and top suppliers, such as Aptiv/nuTonomy, BMW, Continental, Honda, PSA, Schaeffler and Toyota, to use the country as a developmental test bed.

GovTech envisions using autonomous vehicles as a complementary and, in some cases, add-on technology for personal vehicles, public transportation and new mobility services. The goal is to better coordinate various forms of the transportation ecosystem to improve first mile/last mile commutes in under-served areas.

Several local mobility companies already are thriving. Singapore-based GrabTaxi is southeast Asia’s largest ride-hailing/sharing service. The company was valued at $10 billion last year when Toyota agreed to invest $1 billion in the firm.