Smart Cities Use Cases: Interview with Mingding Han of Singapore’s A*STAR

After looking at the IoT landscape in our last blog, I thought it would be meaningful to speak with someone with real experience.  In this blog we asked an expert in the Community IoT domain about use cases and emerging developments concerning smart cities. 

Q1: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and the environment you’re working in (A*STAR)?

My name is Mingding Han and I work at the Institute for Infocomm Research, under the Agency of Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in Singapore.

I'm a systems engineer in the Sense and Sense-abilities (S&S) R&D programme. Our vision is to develop enabling technologies for Smart Cities, specifically the architecture and systems for sustainable and large-scale sensing, communications and networked systems management.

Q2: What is the Smart Cities idea and what are the benefits of deploying sensors in an environment such as a city?

From our perspective, the essence of Smart Cities is to empower the population with the knowledge and tools to better understand the urban environment we live in, and to make better decisions. It is a realization of:

  1. The ability to empower the population to derive actionable insights from raw data, and to improve how people live, work and play.
  2. The potential to help government and city planners make better decisions towards serving the needs of the population, as well as the sustainable growth of cities and communities.
  3. The commercial potential for industry and start-ups as they tap on potentially disruptive technologies and discover new business models.

At the core of this ongoing revolution is the increasing technical feasibility and operational cost-effectiveness of deploying large numbers of sensors in a city, be it to (i) monitor the micro-climate for better quality of living, (ii) improve the safety and security of the population, (iii) realize the vision of future transportation systems, (iv) provide a city-scale store of real-time information to drive new innovation, or all of the above.

Q3: Are there any real-world examples of IoT deployments in major cities in general, and also particularly in your area?

Some of the world-class Smart Cities we use as reference include the Spanish cities of Santander  (read Spiegel article here), and Barcelona.

Other examples include Songdo in South Korea and London.

Over here in Singapore, the Jurong Lake District is becoming a precinct-level test-bed for Smart Cities towards the government infocomm vision of a Smart Nation Platform.

Q4: What challenges do you see, currently, concerning IoT, especially in the context of Smart Cities?

  • Scale: massive information flows, simply due to the sheer number of sensors
  • Energy-harvesting and sustainability: in terms of technology & population lifestyle
  • Existing connectivity network infrastructure is not designed to support tens of thousands of sensor data streams. Wireless mesh network topologies of low-power low data-rate devices are increasingly becoming a viable alternative or complementary technology, both in cost and systems complexity
  • The potential of in-network processing and intelligence-to-the-edge, to do processing where the data is
  • The implications of missing or delayed data at the system level

Furthermore, a new challenge arises in the form of data veracityhow accurate or relevant or timely the data isin addition to the challenges of big data: volume, velocity, and variety. The ability to do timely and contextual sense-making and make good decisions that translate into effective action based on real-time data streams could greatly increase the potential of Smart Cities, in terms of both societal and economic impact.

Stay tuned for my next installment in the IoT blog post series where we take a closer look at a sometimes underestimated IoT device: smart phones.

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