Produced by Scientific American's Custom Media division in collaboration with selected sponsors.
Toward Even Better Living
As Singapore conquers 21st-century problems with cutting-edge technologies, the world takes note
By Renee Morad
If all the world’s a stage, Singapore has a captive audience. In about half the area of London, Singapore has built not just a city, but an entire country. In addition to land constraints, the island nation faces a steady stream of challenges, from rapid immigration to an aging population. Despite these obstacles, Singapore has upheld a reputation as an ideal place to do business and as one of the most livable cities. It’s also among the world’s most innovative countries and best places for start-ups.
For example, on the Scientific American Worldview Scorecard, which measures the biotechnology innovation potential of countries around the globe, Singapore always ranks near the top. Since the start of this index in 2009, Singapore has been in the top five every year, except for 2011 when it came in eighth. Asked about Singapore’s consistently high scores, Yali Friedman—head of data analytics for Scientific American Custom Media, publisher of the Journal of Commercial Biotechnology and architect of the Scientific American Worldview Scorecard—says the country’s robust performance is due, at least in part, to the fact that “it has all the right inputs; the policy and economic environment is strong.”
Today, Singapore serves as an archetype for other advanced nations worldwide tackling similar challenges. Below are a few of the forward-thinking initiatives that have helped to establish this undersized country as a big player on the world stage.
DATA-DRIVEN PUBLIC TRANSPORT
While Singapore’s testing of self-driving cars has generated international buzz, the nation has been covering ground with other public-transport initiatives designed to improve efficiency and convenience. With 12% of Singapore’s land already used for roads, a “key for us is to build and operate a public-transport system that provides a high level of connectivity, speed and comfort, [such] that Singaporeans feel less of a desire to drive,” says Rosina Howe-Teo, group director of innovation and infocomm technology for the Land Transport Authority (LTA).
More than 2 million people in Singapore take the bus or train at least twice a day—amounting to a total of 6.9 million daily trips. To expand the nation’s rail system, the government is building 1 kilometer of rail per month and one station every two months from now until 2030. When completed, the majority of Singaporeans will be no more than a 10-minute walk to a station.
Meanwhile, data analytics tools are driving other advances, with location-tracking sensors on vehicles and the data mining of anonymized bus fare–card transactions helping to predict commuter behaviors and forecast crowding. All Singapore-registered vehicles will soon have a navigation system to transmit data and provide real-time traffic advisories to drivers. In addition, its “Take the Train Earlier for Free” system uses analytics to ease traffic during crunch times.
Behind the scenes, LTA is working with telecommunications companies to leverage mobile-phone data that can be aggregated to provide mobility patterns of those who walk or cycle to their destinations. “Moving forward, we also aim to make walking, cycling and riding public transport the way of life for the people in Singapore,” says Howe-Teo.
A SMART TOWN FRAMEWORK
In September of 2014, Singapore’s Housing & Development Board (HDB) announced its Smart HDB Town Framework, outlining efforts to leverage information and communications technology to “make HDB towns and estates more livable, efficient, sustainable and safe for our residents,” HDB’s chief executive officer Cheong Koon Hean said. The foundation of the initiative is built on four pillars: smart planning, smart environment, smart estate and smart living.
Computer simulations and data analytics are helping to shape the way HDB plans and designs towns, precincts and buildings and meets sustainability goals. Technologies include smart planning tools that simulate wind flows, shading effects of buildings and solar irradiance. These simulations help planners to harness breezes that cool and improve air quality and to locate greenery in the right places for reducing the urban heat island effect. They can also help select the best sites for installing solar panels that maximize the generation of renewable energy. A decision-making tool will enable planners to choose the most effective and viable combination of solutions to achieve their desired sustainability targets. Smart car parks will be integrated with an intelligent parking-demand monitoring system.
In estates, a network of sensors will capture and respond to real-time environmental factors. Smart fans, for example, will be activated by human traffic, temperature and humidity to improve thermal comfort levels for residents, according to HDB.
In addition, HDB will be developing smart-enabled flats, so that residents can seamlessly integrate a vast array of smart home devices offered by commercial companies. Examples of applications include a home energy–management system, in which residents will be able to know and manage their energy consumption and home appliances in real time, from anywhere, even if they’re miles away.
“We develop homes with a key focus on people. Harnessing the potential of information and communications technology to develop smart applications will help us to design and build towns that will provide a more comfortable living experience for our residents,” said Cheong.
A SMART PATHWAY TO SUCCESS
Singapore’s smart initiatives and friendly business environment have attracted many of the world’s leading universities and medical facilities, as well as a large stream of research and development capital and a rapidly growing community of tech start-ups. Leading biopharmaceutical companies, including Abbott, Novartis, Pfizer and Sanofi-Aventis, are betting on the region as a global hub, and researchers from institutions like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are working with the National University of Singapore in state-of-the-art laboratories, where inventions such as stingray-like robots that collect data to prevent ocean algae and smart labs addressing the complexities of infectious diseases are in the works.
At Human Longevity Inc.’s Singapore location, scientists are endeavoring to increase lifespan using stem cells and digitized DNA. On a mission to reverse the regenerative changes seen in aging, the company is harnessing the power of human genomics, informatics, stem-cell advances and next-generation DNA sequencing technologies. Human Longevity cofounder Robert Hariri credits Singapore’s “very technologically progressive jurisdiction, where the workforce is highly educated and has a strong work ethic.” Government support, investment dollars and valuable human capital provide all the makings of a “really, really exciting place,” he adds.
Meeting the challenges of sustainable urban living through the Smart Nation model, Singapore shows the world what’s possible for us all.
Scientific American’s Custom Media Division, operating as a separate and distinct unit from its Editorial department, develops events, content, and special projects in partnership with corporations, government institutions and academia.