What delivery robots in Singapore can tell us about the future of smart cities

By Yogesh Hirdaramani

From autonomous delivery robots to facial recognition payments systems, a new trial by Singapore’s JTC Corporation demonstrates how smart cities can go beyond smart facilities management towards smart retail and other applications.

JTC Corporation's upcoming smart retail trial paves the way for future smart city applications that support businesses. Image: JTC Corporation

From August 2024, office workers at Singapore’s Woodlands North Coast, an upcoming mixed-use estate, will be able to order food delivery via autonomous robots. This is thanks to a new smart retail services trial by JTC Corporation, a government agency which drives sustainable industrial development initiatives in Singapore.


These initiatives are the next step for the Open Digital Platform (ODP), the agency’s plug-and-play smart city operating system, which integrates district management operations onto one single digital backbone. GovInsider previously reported on how the platform is driving sustainable district management as well as smart management.


“We have been actively developing facility management applications, but we need to expand the horizon – and the next touchpoint is retail,” says James Tan, Director of Smart City Technology Division at GovTech Singapore and concurrent Director of the Smart District Division at JTC Corporation.


“In order to transform the experience of working and living in our estates, we want smart retail to provide convenience and productivity for our tenants.” 


GovInsider speaks to Tan to learn more about how the platform connects various smart city solutions and how it will power Singapore’s future smart districts.

Open Digital Platform an operating system for smart city solutions


“ODP is meant to be an operating system for our estate. Much like our iPhones have iOS, our estates and buildings will need an operating system,” says Tan. Through this central system, estate planners can integrate both public and private systems to deliver new opportunities for efficiency and convenience.


“We look at what our platform can do and then we develop user journeys, so that we can then isolate and decide what are the services that can be rendered to an estate,” he explains.

Delivery robots can be integrated with smart building systems, allowing them to pass through gantries seamlessly. Image: JTC Corporation

For example, JTC’s autonomous food delivery robot ‘Kopi’ can be integrated within multiple building management systems. During its initial trials at JTC Summit in the Jurong Lake District, the robot was integrated with the building’s lifts and gantries.


This means that after receiving an order, the robot is able to access different floors while clearing security at the gantries seamlessly, without any backend intervention.


Another solution being trialled is a facial recognition payment system, which allows customers to pay with a quick facial scan – requiring the integration of digital identity, facial recognition systems, payment gateways, as well as the food delivery platform application.

With a quick facial scan, residents may be able to pay for food and drinks from vendors. Image: JTC Corporation

“ODP has a mission to ensure system interoperability… We look end-to-end to see how we can connect up all the systems and a lot of it will rely on ODP’s plug-and-play capabilities,” he says.

Powering Singapore’s first digital district


The new trial sets the stage for the agency’s bigger plans for Punggol Digital District, the country’s first smart district that aims to transform the way people work, live, learn, and play.


As a mixed-use development comprising residences, a business park, and a university campus in the northeast of Singapore, the district aims to attract global business investment. The ODP plays a crucial role in enabling businesses to achieve their objectives more seamlessly.


“For us to remain economically competitive, we need to have that ‘wow’ factor for people to come here... The estate should provide the kind of capabilities for you to want to set up business here,” says Tan.

James Tan, Director of Smart City Technology Division at GovTech Singapore and concurrent Director of the Smart District Division at JTC Corporation, shares with GovInsider on the next steps for Singapore's Open Digital Platform. Image: JTC Corporation

For example, giant retailers could seamlessly integrate smart applications with building systems to enable greater ease of browsing, purchasing, and delivery for residents.


When tenants set up shop in Punggol Digital District, they can partner with JTC to set up prototypes through ODP to connect with smart facility systems. Alternatively, businesses that pass through the district – like logistics or cleaning companies – can also partner with JTC to support operations.


“ODP is conceived as a living lab through which retailers, academia, and industry can come together to use the platform and innovate new solutions.”

Long term plans


In the long term, JTC aims to implement ODP at future JTC estates to continue integrating commercial, retail, and technology solutions together.


There are still internal discussions underway around scaling ODP beyond Punggol Digital District and whether ODP should only be implemented in newer buildings – though cost considerations are a concern, he says.


They are also reviewing potential use cases in the future. These could include smart living, such as voice activation for the visually handicapped to access lifts or smart mobility, like transport solutions that offer real-time monitoring of car park occupancy.


In particular, the team is looking at how other AI services can be integrated within ODP in the future, such as personalised AI recommendations for residents.


Shermaine Wong, Senior Manager at the Smart District Division of JTC Corporation will be presenting on the Open Digital Platform at the Festival of Innovation 2024 during the Smart City Spotlight on 26 March 2024. Register now to learn more.