Adopting Cutting-Edge Technologies for Smart City Development

Asia Blockchain Review

September 27, 2019

The rise of 5G technology, blockchain and artificial intelligence is driving the development of smart cities around the world. In Asia, Taipei is one of the leading cities experiencing massive technological adoption in recent years. Asia Blockchain Review recently spoke to Chen-Yu Lee, Director for Taipei Smart City Project Management Office, about being the matchmaker between private and public organizations, driving smart cities with cutting-edge technology, projects under development, and his vision for how smart cities will change the way we work, play and live.

 

Asia Blockchain Review: First of all, can you tell us about Taipei Smart City Project Management Office and its role? 

Taipei Smart City Project Management Office (TPMO) was established by DoIT(Department of Information Technology) of Taipei City Government to implement and govern the development of smart cities, thereafter building an innovation matchmaking platform to combine industry and government resources to develop smart solutions that satisfy public demands. Many countries around the world have started smart city development plans and became the vanguards, such as the smart grid in the US and intelligent energy management in Amsterdam.

The main appeal of the PMO is to promote public participation and public-private partnership in order to create new technologies, innovative applications, and data/information to solve citizens’ problems. Before executing PMO’s concepts, we fully understand the public expectations. Such suggestions include feedback and corrections that were accumulated from former smart city seminars. Taipei city government hopes to construct an ecosystem so that the government, industry, and citizens can share the prosperity from its development. In the future, the first task in the blueprint will be to establish a matchmaking platform which allows citizens access to necessary innovative technologies. It will gradually open up many fields allowing interested industries to conduct trials and make the city into a “living lab.” Ultimately, we wish for citizens to benefit from more intelligent services.

Based on citizens’ demands, Smart Taipei is being built via two mechanisms: Top-down and Bottom-up. For the Top-down mechanism, as in most cities, mature smart solutions typically directly inform policy down to citizens. In this sense, TPMO plays the role of consultant in recommending new materials or ideas for building smart cities. In the Bottom-up mechanism, smart solutions are proposed by the vendors themselves and undergo a simple assessment to determine whether they can provide public services or if they are even innovative. TPMO will then help these vendors negotiate with relevant city governmental departments and seek opportunities to conduct PoC projects in Taipei. 

This could in turn give start-up companies more chances to engage with the government, helping to provide Taipei with greater capacity as a living lab within a smart city. After nearly three-and-a-half years of building smart Taipei, we have already processed more than 190 PoC projects and engaged with more than 500 teams. Moreover, the culture of government has gradually changed. Instead of fearing challenges, they now maintain the flexibility to accept innovations.

ABR: Among initiatives for smart cities, Smart Transportation has been a key focus amid rising traffic congestion and pollution in major cities worldwide. What are some of the initiatives for Smart Transportation?

To ensure that all citizens can travel freely and in a sustainable manner, Taipei City adopts IoT solutions to create alternatives to private vehicles. Related data is also publicly accessible across various formats, allowing for easy review, utilization and downloads. With the right IoT solution in place, citizens can connect all their devices across a centralized cloud network. This approach also accelerates productivity, profitability and operations with specifically designed solutions.

Citizens can travel in the city via public/sharing transportation such as buses, MRT, Youbike and U-motor (electric sharing scooters). Interactive 4G smart bus stops have also been set up, with solar panels installed atop structures. The back panels for bus stops offer timetables, weather, EasyCard balance queries, bus status information and other services, as well as charging sockets and free Wi-Fi for the convenience of passengers. Taipei City has also made Wi-Fi available on MRT and buses to enhance the passenger experience. More than 13,000 Youbikes and 2,000 U-motors are available for rent, with the status of individual vehicles connected to the cloud through IoT technology. All information can immediately be checked and functions accessed via mobile applications. The convenience of the system encourages citizens to utilize Taipei’s public / sharing transportation and contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions while commuting. 

After the success of the autonomous bus road test in 2017, Taipei City had turned a site of 10 hectares from Beitou-Shihlin Science Park into the first Autonomous Vehicle testing field in Taiwan, offering space to experiment with Internet of Vehicles-related technology, autonomous vehicle and smart infrastructure. In the near future, Taipei City will be the first to introduce small autonomous buses on designated bus lanes along Xinyi Road as a means of connecting the “first mile” and “last mile” to the MRT system, providing the citizens with more diverse and convenient choices for public transportation.

Even for drivers of private vehicles, smart street lights and intelligent parking systems can sharply decrease idling time and vehicle carbon emissions by detecting parking spaces and providing route guides through sensor facilities (such as parking meters and ground magnets) and wireless transmission technology (LoRa / WiFi). The real-time user data also creates calculations and estimates, which can do many things from communicating with other vehicles to sharing information on road conditions.

Taipei City has been using AI to analyze urban traffic surveillance images since 2018, so information such as traffic flow, vehicle types, traffic events, transportation needs and parking spaces can be captured instantly and accurately. This project involves the installation of 360-degree fisheye lens cameras with AI to provide real-time information such as traffic flow, vehicle speeds, and the trajectory of different models at complex intersections, providing a basis for future traffic control system integration and simulating the most suitable transportation solutions.

By working with the Information Bureau, Transport Bureau and the Police Department, the city has also expanded the use of “Connected Smart Cameras” on some buses and police cars to instantly collect and sort collected image data onto a mobile image platform. With the integration of AI, these smart cameras have given rise to extension applications such as bus stop parking, auxiliary license plate recognition, and virtual vehicle attendants. The cameras also come with video identification systems which, by integrating with other bureaus, has improved license plate recognition to 95% accuracy, and will later enable new efficient and intelligent parking services for the public.

The Internet of Things will not only make citizens’ lives smarter and easier, but also improve both quality of life and the environment. The Internet of Things helps herald the new age of Internet of Transportation, creating transportation connectivity and changing the ways people travel. Taipei City is ready for this new era.

 

ABR: With many nations facing an aging population, what are your thoughts on Smart Healthcare? How can smart cities improve the quality of life for its citizens with better healthcare service? 

Healthcare is indeed an important part of building a smart city, and it’s also one of the key directions that Smart Taipei is working hard towards. In order to develop Taipei into a comfortable city and enhance competitiveness to drive smart city-related industries, the city conducted experiments on “people oriented” smart health care services, including the Personal Health Record (PHR) and Community Care Platform (CCIP) at the six branch campuses of Taipei City Hospital. Moreover, the program offers open information technology to suppliers with emphasis on medical expertise of the respective branch campuses, assisting the hospitals with smart health care services and eventually expanding the implementation to more hospitals. The public can use the cloud system for monitoring and managing their personal health. In the future, some data can be integrated into the social care system for other service applications. The services planned for this case are as follows:

  • Heping Fuyou Branch: Dementia care, maternal and child care
  • Renai Branch: Diabetes and hemodialysis care
  • Zhongxiao Branch: Orthopedics and urinary care (surgical integration)
  • Yangming Branch: Acute post-care (PAC)
  • Zhongxing Branch: Emergency care integration (internal and external hospital integration)

There are also many different PoC projects providing several smart services through AI, LoRa IoT communication technology, or Origin Wireless technology to be used in areas such as location tracking, experimental telemedicine and elderly safety. Through various types of innovative technology applications, Taipei could provide better care for citizens while improving the efficiency of caregivers.

ABR: Digital payments are another concern as smart cities strive to offer seamless payment systems. What role will technologies such as 5G or blockchain play in driving smart payment systems? 

In light of the rising trend of mobile payments, the Taipei City Government has been actively pushing ahead with the development of its smart payment platform (pay.taipei) to diversify payment methods for public fees. The platform, currently undergoing systems tests to accommodate accounting systems of individual agencies, is slated for launch in the first quarter of 2017. Residents will be able to pay parking, water, or Taipei City Hospital service fees using the platform. 

As the first of its kind on the island, the payment platform will link with eight payment service providers (including GAMA Pay, Pi, JKOS, allPay, ezPay, iAPPPAY, Taishin International Bank, and E.SUN Bank). Upon completion, the system will allow Taipei residents to enjoy the convenience of smart payments starting early 2017. Upon launch, citizens can immediately pay parking fees, utilities fees and medical expenses online.

Every year, the Taipei City Government defrays transaction fees of these public bills up to 137 million, with parking, utilities and medical expenses covering 97.3% of the fees. After the pay.taipei platform goes online, the fees will be lower than with physical methods, helping the city save additional costs.

In the future, after the service matures and includes more processing fees (possibly all payments), it can serve as a ledger for all citizens and may even be integrated with digital IDs and backed by blockchain technology.

 

ABR: In smart cities, the implementation of IoT devices takes on a key role. How does Taiwan’s geographical advantage characterized by the EMS business model serve to realize this goal of connectivity in smart cities? 

Taiwan’s electro mechanical system is very powerful, shifted from the previous hardware OEM and ODM to the soft/hard power integrated system. Under the accumulation of technology and experience, Taiwan owns complete electronic manufacturing and information telecommunication industry chains. Moreover, the enhancement of precision in electronic products and the rise in human resource costs have prompted more urgent calls for Taiwan to introduce IoT.

In the example of Taiwan’s primary electronic manufacturing industry for smartphones, the sensors, processors and IC have been increasing in demand. These components not only drastically increase in quantity with better performance, the demand for customization also continues to enhance, thereby impelling the manufacturing system to speed up the upgrade. The structure of IoT helps the integration of these highly professional components, work and even logistics.

In spite of Taiwan’s limited domestic market, its geographic location in the Asia-Pacific Region comes with major advantages in drawing global production resources and sales market chains. To the north is the world’s third largest economy, Japan, while to the south are the ten ASEAN member states and India.  Meanwhile to the east is the world’s largest economy, the United States, with the world’s second largest economy and center of global economic growth, China, to the west. The utilization of existing industry strength, supported by IoT application in the improvement of productivity, is therefore expected to bring the geographic advantage into full play, which has become an urgent matter for Taiwan.

ABR: According to the Taipei Smart City website, “the adoption of Proof of Concept (POC) model allows Taipei to open up to all kinds of innovative solutions for trial”. Can you tell us more about using the POC model and how it has driven your projects? 

In PoC projects, the government provides fields for vendors to test their solutions with the involvement of civil servants. If the result is sound, the city government may consider the solution as tender.

Using this model, Taipei City changed the city’s culture from long-term project planning to iterative processes, of which ‘being open to fail‘ has been an important facet. By doing so, private sector partners can test their solutions with the involvement of civil servants.

The industry often has skills which can support better policymaking. To utilize this, Taipei opened the city to private sector partners, kicking-off Public Private Partnerships (PPP), including citizens. Small scale projects test innovative applications, with the possibility of scaling and government procurement if proven successful. 

Furthermore, the success of PoC projects in Taipei becomes useful marketing material for companies and startups that can use it to access international markets more easily.

 For example, air pollution is a major problem encountered by many cities around the world. Taipei’s AirBox project has its origins in the “Monitor our own air” initiative proposed by Internet groups. The plan won mayoral support and the AirBox project was realized through collaboration among the EDIMAX, Academia Sinica, Realtek, and LASS community. The project monitors PM2.5 particles in the air. During the initial stage, 300 sensors were donated by the companies. A total of 150 sensors were installed at schools to promote environmental and maker education, allowing students to exercise their creativity in developing their own sensors for monitoring and uploading data to the cloud platform. The public could easily access the data through apps, helping to raise awareness about air quality.

Following its success, the AirBox project was later replicated by municipalities including New Taipei, Taoyuan, Taichung, Tainan, Kaohsiung, Hsinchu and Chiayi. Today, the network boasts 1,500 devices installed at locations island-wide. AirBox has also expanded to 26 nations abroad. The network integrating academia, internet groups, industries, and government has become the largest air-quality monitoring network applying IoT technology in the world.

The AirBox project also allows citizens to acquire real-time air quality information, thanks to advances in monitoring technology and Big Data analysis. Additionally, it provides the city government with an important reference for drafting future measures to counter air pollution. All these factors make AirBox a concrete example of Taipei’s Smart City policy. With the accumulation of its database, the project can take advantage of Big Data analysis and transform itself into a popular movement to monitor air pollution. 

 

ABR: Smart Education is a topic that has not been frequently discussed among developers of smart cities. What are some of the initiatives driving smart education?    

We see Smart Education as the tool for achieving “Equity in Education” among all students. 

In order to achieve this goal, the strategy has been to implement iCampus idea. This idea comprises four major tasks: Building a Campus Smart Network; Building a Smart Future Classroom; Building a Digital Learning Platform; and Promoting Mobile Education. 

An estimated US$1.6 billion is being invested over three years to implement the iCampus idea, which includes academic hardware and software. Hardware implementation involves the development of a strong, stable, and comprehensive digital fiber-optic network on campus. Such infrastructure is important for enabling more ICT applications, including Smart Classrooms and Mobile learning or AR/VR Learning Applications, while also ensuring every student has the same access to smart learning.

On the software side, we help teachers and students understand how they can use digital devices for teaching and learning. For instance, we have an online platform called Taipei Cooc-Cloud, which integrates multiple learning resources and teaching tools and has already been viewed by over 12 million visitors. Since September 2017, “Taipei City CooC Cyberschool” has offered the OnO (Online and Offline) interactive learning platform, which subverts traditional teaching methods and removes time and space constraints. Students can participate online without the need for software through live broadcast courses that are as real as any physical classroom. Moreover, the learning materials on the platform can be shared with different schools in different cities, which addresses issues of faculty shortages in rural towns. The students’ learning history on the platform will also be recorded and a data-driven education and learning environment will be established. The data can then be analyzed to give teachers and students more effective ways to carry out daily learning actions and decisions. By accumulating data on learning behavior, the platform will collect a large volume of teaching processes and student learning processes. In the future, they will be able to learn and analyze related data accumulated through the platform, helping them to develop more valuable services and more adaptive teaching models.

We also use the campus as a testbed for ICT companies to apply for PoC projects. For example, a company called Edimax donated 300 airboxes to the Taipei City Government. We installed these boxes to detect the air quality around the campus so those nearby could observe the PM2.5 levels, temperature and humidity. At the same time, we work with a social media platform called LASS to promote this case and upload the collected information as open-data onto the website “Airbox.Taipei” for other companies to apply for developing their ICT applications. This project was successful and eventually spread to other counties in Taiwan. Furthermore, countries such as Korea, Singapore and Canada copied and conducted this model in their cities. It is a classic intercity PoC by our definition. 

We expect to remain open-minded about Smart Education going forward, introducing additional ICT applications to develop more citizen-centric use cases as we approach our goal of achieving Equity in Education.

ABR: 5G technologies are just around the corner. How will 5G-speed communications enable the operation of new technologies in smart cities?

Indeed, “high speed” is one important feature of 5G network and also the most common application example currently conceivable. For example, faster talk time, texting, web browsing, audio/video streaming and other functions, which in theory will be 10 times faster than on 4G networks (4G Peak value: 0.1-1 Gbps, 5G peak value: 1-10 Gbps).

However, the consideration of speed as the only goal for developing 5G networks substantially underestimates the dimension and scale of issues which 5G can process.  High speeds, low latency and high connectivity are among the services of the more advanced performance provided by 5G networks. According to estimates released by IDC, the top three 2017~2022 CAGRs for smart city application examples worldwide (calculation based on five-year expenditures) include wear devices (62%), Internet of Vehicle V2X(49%), and OPEN DATA(25%). The data reveal future applications in IoT equipment, autopilot vehicles, telesurgery, and VR/AR media, which will highly affect people at the level of urban security, transportation and live, re-shaping the image of smart cities.

Key Application 1 – V2X Vehicle Network (Low Latency)

In terms of security, the schedule for autopilot vehicles to hit the road can be accelerated. Imagine driving at high speeds of 80kph on the highway or in emergency situations.  Communication between equipment will approve the high performance of low latency in 5G. In terms of short distances, all auto-pilots can communicate mutually with other vehicles, pedestrians, road tests, traffic lights, and other transportation infrastructure. These vehicles can monitor the actual situations in real-time and react immediately. For long-distance travel, vehicles can quickly pass the network and capture data on weather, traffic flow and other information from the cloud. They can then determine the most secure and efficient road sections and driving modes when incorporated with the various sensor radars of autonomous vehicles. 

Key Application 2- IoT (High Connectivity) 

In terms of precision, the 5G era will be more advanced and comprehensive than that of 4G. The density of IoT equipment per square kilometer can reach as high as 1 million units, extensively connecting to multiple sensors, including traffic lights, street lights and ground magnets. Current road use will be monitored and reported to car owners as well as government agencies integrating smart traffic systems. Smart buses are just one application examples, where driving and in-car security monitoring, auto bus arrival notices and off-peak automatic allocation are included.


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Asia Blockchain Review

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Asia Blockchain Review is the largest initiative for media and community building in Asia for blockchain technology. We aim to connect all blockchain enthusiasts on a regional scale and facilitate the technological foundation of blockchain through a range of group discussions, technical workshops, conferences, and consulting programs.

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