Transportation – The heart of an endemic-resilient and sustainable smart city

Today’s smart cities are going through another evolution. From the focus on increasing safety post 9/11 and emphasis on increasing efficiencies through automation, officials across the globe are looking to bolster their smart city strategies to respond to a new set of challenges – climate change and endemic-urbanisation. While Smart City initiatives usually encompass different components from safety, optimization of living spaces to smart governance, at the heart of every municipality, is its transportation network – and that is where I believe effective change to tackle the new challenges can stem from.

Greening Singapore’s transportation sector

The most significant greenhouse gas emitted in many cities across the globe is carbon dioxide, primarily produced by the burning of fossil fuels to generate energy. Unfortunately, industry, building, household, and transport sectors are still largely dependent on such fuel sources. 

Looking at Singapore as an example, the city-state’s transportation sector alone accounts for 14 percent of its total emissions. Due to the extensiveness and interconnectivity of its systems, transportation could be a key sector for consideration as Singapore looks to achieve its net-zero ambitions. While the search is on for the transition to cleaner and greener energy sources, infrastructural technologies can help circumvent excessive emissions and improve efficiencies to meet increasing travel demands once borders reopen. 

A city’s transport sector requires close inspection of logistics such as fuels, supplies and maintenance for seamless everyday commute and to keep their local economies going. This increases the need for intelligent transport systems that rely on data collection, analysis, and real-time observation – something that cannot be gathered and done by manual or legacy methods on such a large scale.

I believe that there is a huge opportunity for infrastructural technologies to greatly improve energy efficiency in the transport sector, on top of ensuring passengers’ safety and maintaining service standards. 

By combining IoT sensors and video technology, the detection of elements such as air pollutants, noise level and vibrations allows urban planners to easily monitor the environment. These technologies can be connected to a central database to relay information in real-time on sustainability issues to create early warning systems that can alert authorities to a potential issue before it exceeds limits.

We are already seeing this in Auckland, New Zealand – video technology is combined with IoT and 5G to gather data and insights on the streets to improve public safety, manage traffic better, and reduce overall environmental impact. Through the integration of video, sensors, and smart technologies, aligning sustainability and security efforts in transportation is becoming a reality. 

Growing beyond conventional safety into an endemic reality

Another challenge for Smart Cities is recalibrating their safety measures to appropriately respond to post-pandemic challenges. COVID-19 has presented security-focused technologies an opportunity to redefine its role in becoming a strategic tool for modern safety goals, pivoting from the traditional viewpoint of surveilling people and property.

The call for enhanced safety and security have been invoked by the pandemic. In Singapore for example, citizens are beginning to come to terms with these technological safeguards, especially as we transition to the endemic reality. Milestone’s “Video technology amid COVID-19” study, found that eight in ten Singaporeans are receptive to the usage of video technology, such as thermal imagining cameras and crowd management video analytics. It also found that having knowledge of the benefits of video technology and the privacy measures being put in place are key to gaining acceptance.

The use of Video technology in Singapore’s public transport ecosystem, mainly Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), has been trialed to detect and reduce overcrowding, and consequently reduce manpower needs. As the pandemic slowly evolves to an endemic, transport systems can potentially adopt capabilities that are comprehensive and catered to meeting current safety needs. These include the likes of heat mapping, temperature detection, proximity identification and mask detection, just to name a few.

On the other side of the world, a bus terminal in Madrid known as Méndez Álvaro Station has launched a new algorithm for mask detection. Such high accuracy in identification is important to provide real-time information as social distancing rules start to relax and crowds return, leaving cities vulnerable to the virus. 

With tools such as smart video technologies and analytics capabilities readily available today, the possibilities for a smart city’s transportation infrastructure are endless. 

Shoring up on such state-of-the-art infrastructural investments will benefit more than just a city’s transport infrastructure but will ultimately help citizens realise a much more resilient, sustainable and greener city.