Using data to empower the urban populous: How collaborated research studies, technologies, algorithms and analytics are helping Singapore drive sustainable urbanization
Urbanization is already a reality around the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the urban population in 2014 accounted for 54 percent of the global population – up from 34 percent in 1960 – and this proportion continues to increase. This is particularly the case in less-developed countries, where it is estimated that by next year, the majority of people will be living in urban areas. In Singapore, already a heavily-populated urban center with an estimated 5.5 million inhabitants, the annual growth rate has been 1.6 percent since 2013.
The expectation for further urban growth, alongside the results from the Economist Intelligence Unit’s City Index in March 2016 which declared Singapore as the most expensive city in the world to live in, have led the city authorities to pass a resolution to streamline costs for how the state functions as an urbanized country. This is calculated by comparing the price of a weighted basket of goods across 133 cities, and although the City Index does not yet list Singapore as the most expensive place in the world to buy groceries, it is the most expensive place in the world to buy and run a car and for transportation costs in general – some 2.7 times higher than New York. Clothing and utility costs are also among the highest in the world.
With Singapore and Japan alike facing similar challenges and demands on infrastructure and energy usage, both have recognized the need to develop long-term urban sustainability solutions to ensure high standards of living, ample work opportunities for the populace, and to ensure economic growth.
Back in 2013, Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), and Fujitsu first signed a five-year Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to establish the first Centre of Excellence (CoE) for Computational Social Science and Engineering*
As a result, researchers turned Singapore into a “living lab” to test next generation solutions to real urban issues, utilizing data from various Government agencies to derive an understanding of complex dynamics within the city – and to exploit the power of modelling and simulation to guide both critical decision-making and implementation of solutions. This, in turn, is creating greater efficiencies in resource usage and allocation as well as generating vital growth opportunities in new areas.
The urban computing and engineering research team is harnessing HPC capabilities to develop solutions for sustainable urban operations such as crowd mobility and transport engineering, to study the flow of traffic, both human and vehicular, and model simulations to test how Singapore can ensure smooth traffic flow in crowded areas. A key area of research, for instance, focuses on large urban areas where many people gather in a short time, for activities such as sporting events or concerts. The idea behind this is to provide visitors to such events with intelligent and timely information, delivered through their mobile devices, to help in decision making when it comes to how to get to or from the venue.
With Dynamic Mobility Management, researchers are able to understand and improve the dynamics of commuter traffic in large urban spaces, as well as managing crowds under extreme conditions and during surges, using a new computing platform that combines research in sensing, data management and analytics, modeling and simulation, behavioral modeling and decision support.
Furthermore, studying port operation optimization and design of integrated logistics concepts to manage inbound and outbound shipments from port to city, aims to improve capacities without building new facilities. Singapore depends on trade, and the Singapore Strait, which divides the Island State from Malaysia, is one of the world’s busiest shipping routes. At any one time, some 200,000 vessels are present in the Singapore Strait.
By participating in these ground-breaking projects, Fujitsu is contributing to the development of social innovation solutions, using big data analysis and HPC for integrating big data analytics, and has a goal of developing new skills and practical experience to establish new business models for global or ASEAN companies moving into Singapore. Fujitsu is also leveraging the leading-edge research and development capabilities within Fujitsu Laboratories to contribute to the Centre’s various research themes.
Singapore recognized that rapid advances in information and communication technology (ICT) will have a profound impact on the way society lives, works and plays. This was the mantra behind the launch of the Smart Nation program, a whole-of-nation journey to harness ICT, networks and data in order to support better living, create more opportunities and support stronger communities.
The program has three priorities – to leverage IT in healthcare to support an aging population, to develop breakthrough solutions in mobility and transportation to drive efficiency and improve commuter experience, and to create a safe and secure data market place in order to provide a platform for businesses and individuals alike to innovate.
This collaboration is right at the forefront of public-private partnerships that are aiming to solve the major urban challenges that confront not only Singapore, but also many other modern cities today. As we experience creeping urbanization around the globe, this does not need to mean degradation in the standard of living.
* The CoE purpose is to identify technological solutions and opportunities for sustainable urban development in key areas such as transportation management and energy efficiency with high performance computing (HPC)-enabled technologies based on real-world data. HPC became increasingly popular in the scientific area as a tool for calculating and modeling complex tasks as well as processing huge amounts of data. In 2014, the Master Research Agreement was signed with a $54 million investment to support research activities aimed at solving challenges commonly faced by rapidly-developing cities. The Institute of High Performance Computing (IHPC) is leading the collaborative effort within A*STAR by drawing upon its capabilities in HPC-enabled analytics of real-world data provided by various sources, as well as its knowledge of complex systems and social behavior.