An exclusive interview with Mr Lim Chinn Hwa, Senior Director (Smart Nation Platform Solutions), GovTech Singapore, and keynote speaker at our virtual event, 5G: Performing at the Edge.
ME: What are the biggest challenges facing Singapore and how are you using to technology to address them?
Mr Chinn: Being one of the most densely-packed cities in the world, Singapore is concerned about urban and environmental sustainability issues. Our government is constantly improving and leveraging our advanced digital infrastructure to enable better city planning and delivery of public services.
GovTech Singapore, the agency driving the public sector digital transformation, is developing the Smart Nation Sensor Platform (SNSP). It is a nationwide sensor network with supporting technologies to achieve the Smart Nation initiatives.
With SNSP, we are building core technologies and services that collect sensor data the government needs; analyse and contextualise the data on a common platform. The insights are shared between public agencies for planning and execution.
To deal with complex challenges like sustainability, it is important that the government agencies are able to get real-time data from myriad sources by cutting across traditional siloed “domains”. Interoperability amongst different sensors, IoT devices and IoT systems contributes to a seamless data access and exchange.
We are also focused on improving quality of life for Singaporeans by giving our community the relevant knowledge needed to make better decisions by themselves, and by automating services wherever possible for sustainable convenience. For example, our national water agency and regulator for the electricity market are respectively trialling the use of smart water and electricity meters in citizens’ homes to reduce manpower to read meters and pass the savings back to the citizens.
The citizens will also have visibility of their consumption patterns to take the appropriate steps to moderate spending on utilities. Ultimately, we want to provide convenience and comfort to people’s lives, and to do so sustainably.
ME: How have the initiatives helped Singapore – for example to be competitive or to protect citizens during the pandemic or to be more sustainable environmentally speaking?
Mr Chinn: Speaking from the context of my team’s work on the SNSP, we were able to come in to help government agencies develop and implement applications quickly when COVID-19 hit Singapore.
Unexpected circumstances, like COVID-19, necessitate fast, flexible responses. In that regard, we were well-placed to quickly build COVID-19 solutions using technologies we were already developing for the SNSP. For example, we have been developing Project Sensesurround, a 3D Command & Control (C2) platform that unifies (geo)spatial-temporal data from many different sources on a single platform.
We used the base technology from Sensesurround to quickly develop SenseOps – a dashboard for inter-agency Safe Distancing operations, planning and reporting – which pulls in data from different sources and visualises it on a map and dashboard. Agencies have since been using SenseOps daily to automate reporting and gain new insights and situational awareness for better planning and deployment, allowing public officers to respond much faster to changing circumstances.
Similarly, SPOTON a smart thermal scanner and our use of the SPOT, a quadruped robot for safe distancing in parks, were developed on top of the Digital Operations Smart Services (DOSS) platform.
This platform uses machine/deep learning for smart sensor payloads and management of autonomous robotics. With SPOTON, the combination of deep learning and low-cost commercial hardware allowed us to develop a solution for mass temperature screening that is much more affordable than most commercially-available thermal scanners without compromising accuracy.
Outside COVID-19, we have also been trialling the lamppost-as-a-platform (LaaP – see picture below) project in two precincts in Singapore, where we have fitted sensors on more than 50 street lampposts. The LaaP trial assesses the technical feasibility of using existing lampposts as the infrastructure to mount and power sensors to learn about the local environment to benefit the citizens.
Such sensors include environmental sensors to monitor air quality and water level, GPS receivers to detect and verify GPS signal quality, as well as video cameras for crowd analytics. The trial also tests other use cases, such as detecting and counting the number of Personal Mobility Devices (PMDs) for public safety. The sensor technologies and data are used to facilitate urban and transport planning.
In the longer-term, we plan to develop more capabilities. Sustainability is a long-term goal. We collect environmental information, energy use, and accessibility. Through our sensor platform and sensors found in smart buildings, lampposts, robots, we automate the collection of the data to plan for energy usage and public safety.
ME: How does Singapore intend to use the new capabilities enabled by 5G, such as network slicing or low latency or massive machine communications?
Mr Chinn: The Singapore Government is working with the telcoms industry to roll out 5G networks throughout Singapore by next year. We believe in the potential of 5G to make a significance to sensor data collection and ability to interact with the citizens. Much has been written about the potential uses of 5G in domains such as healthcare and autonomous vehicles.
As for GovTech, we plan to work with government agencies to identify and develop use cases that can benefit from the fast speed and low latency of 5G connectivity to achieve their targets. These use cases could include robotics such as the use of mobile sensor platforms and unmanned aerial vehicles for urban operations. We anticipate new applications being developed to further enable the “smartness” of the city.
ME: Please can you tell us more about Boston Dynamics’ SPOT robo-dog being deployed in Singapore for safe distancing operations in public parks? What gave you the idea? How successful was it? Has it given you inspiration for other robo-type deployments in other areas?
Mr Chinn: SPOT (see top picture) was acquired from Boston Dynamics prior to COVID-19. When we started with sensor payloads using static infrastructure like the lampposts, we soon realised we needed a mobile platform coupled with an active, rather than passive, strategy to acquire more data due to the need for immediacy and agile conditions.
It has been a longer-term goal of SNSP to develop robotics capabilities, to augment the scope of sensor data acquisition with robots as mobile sensor platforms, and to use robots to actuate based on certain conditions. All these form part of the SNSP’s goal to sense, contextualise and act.
We trialled SPOT for a period of three weeks in May at a public park in Singapore to support safe distancing operations. A key enabler was the Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) capability and autonomy developed by our team. These features enabled SPOT to be controlled remotely over 4G (and in the future, 5G). With these capabilities already developed, it was easier to adapt SPOT for use in safe distancing quickly.
SPOT was also trialled for contactless medicine/supply delivery to the COVID-19-positive patients in a community isolation facility. The team trained medical staff to operate SPOT remotely, to minimise their contact with infected patients.
Before COVID-19, the team was conducting trials of SPOT with several government agencies for their operational needs, including terrain mapping, inspection of structurally unsound buildings, in industrial settings and others. The team continues to develop more capabilities for SPOT (for example, counting people and detecting those not wearing masks) which can be leveraged for other systems/uses.
SPOT’s utility in pandemic management and beyond is immeasurable. We are interested to collaborate with industry and the developer community to co-create and discover new use cases using various platforms.
ME: Which sectors are these new capabilities most important to in your smart city?
Mr Chinn: We are still very much in the process of developing the SNSP and the related technologies. Our current focus is to be an enabling platform for public agencies, and to work with them to realise and apply these technologies to cross-domain use cases.
GovTech is making our technology platforms stack available for the benefit of public and private sector use. A case in point is the SPOTON thermal scanner software that we developed. We are in the process of working with the industry to commercialise the software so that we can fast-track SPOTON to the market and meet demands for an affordable, accurate thermal scanner.
It is the same philosophy that guides the development of our Digital Operations Smart Services (DOSS) platform to support the command and control of digital twin technologies for district management. The software and capabilities we developed are designed to be scalable, adaptable and repeatable for diverse settings and use cases.