Data: The key to Singapore’s first smart district

By Jaz Low

Interview with Edmund Tan, Deputy Director, Smart District Division, JTC.

Singapore is the world’s smartest city for the third year, according to the IMD Smart City Index. From a national digital identity portal to an integrated e-payment approach, the city has developed superlative technology. And it looks like Singapore may sit another year on the throne with plans to build its first smart district.

Opening in phases from 2024, the Punggol Digital District (PDD) will be a smart destination for work and life, where innovators and the community can meet, interact and turn ideas into reality. In particular, the district integrates data to manage its buildings and finetune technologies.

Edmund Tan, Deputy Director, Smart District Division at JTC shares how the PDD is part of Singapore’s vision for a smart city.

Data as the backbone

The PDD will be the first digital district in Singapore with interconnected digital tools and smart technologies through the Open Digital Platform (ODP).

The ODP serves as the digital backbone for the district. It integrates real-time data from a variety of sensors and systems to manage buildings. For example, the ODP gathers data about room occupancy from headcount sensors and energy consumption data from electrical grids.

It uses AI to enable or disable lift cars according to the number of people waiting. More lift cars will be dispatched during rush hour and then powered off at night when there are fewer people around, Tan shares. Systems are no longer tied to pre-programmed schedules, which leads to increased energy efficiency.

The platform will switch off the lights when a meeting room is empty and increase the indoor temperature on a rainy day. This will also mean higher energy savings, making the district more environmentally friendly, Tan says.

The ODP collects data from these different sources by getting systems to share data across a single network, and combines this data to get an overview of all systems. This enhances user experience, and helps the district work more efficiently.

In addition, the ODP will deploy various autonomous robots for better building management, Tan shares. Examples include cleaning, security, and delivery robots.

The ODP can grant robots access to buildings and arrange for lifts to transport robots to their destinations. It will also provide navigation instructions through analytics of CCTV footage when robots lose their way.

Automating the building’s operations will make the work of staff more convenient and enable them to be more proactive, he says. The ODP regularly monitors building assets and alerts staff when signs of failure, such as a faulty turnstile, are detected. Staff can immediately carry out repair works instead of taking action only when a complaint is received.

Their work will be more efficient with better response time, freeing them up to do other more advanced work, Tan notes.

Experimentation and innovation 

The ODP will also allow tech firms to test their solutions on its digital twin system.

Digital twins collect real-time data and maps them onto 3D-modelled virtual copies of the real world. In the case of PDD, the ODP will record district data such as temperature readings, weather forecasts, and power consumption. It then translates representations of this data onto its digital twin.

Event simulations can then take place within the ODP, such as dispatching drones in an urban farm and modifying the blade size of a wind turbine. This is a valuable tool for companies looking to test their tools.

Technology firms can plug directly into the digital twin and trial new products and processes before implementing them in real life. This allows them to experiment and innovate without compromising their solutions or the district because there are no real-world consequences, Tan says.

This experimentation mindset also enables the ODP to constantly improve its own services. It has a continuous feedback loop as it collects data on user’s interactions with services, and then gives this to developers to address areas of improvement. For example, the ODP can investigate the reasons why an attraction is unpopular. It does this by analysing data from sensors along common areas and automatic doors to track movement.

“Is the location inaccessible, does the attraction lack engaging features, or are the navigational signages unclear?” Tan poses. These are just some of the questions that the continuous feedback loop can help to answer.

Green spaces and education

Beyond its software, PDD will have a business park and a university, to foster close collaboration between industry and academia. Companies in PDD and students at the Singapore Institute of Technology can access data from the district’s buildings to test new products and services.

PDD will also have green facilities such as a heritage trail to immerse visitors in nature. Green systems such as urban farms and rooftop solar panels are also in the works. They will help increase energy efficiency and reduce the district’s carbon footprint.

Harnessing data and technology is Singapore’s holy grail towards becoming the smartest city in the world. The ODP brings together various systems to not only manage buildings better but also transform the PDD into a living lab for experimentation and innovation.