Urban Tech

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Several technology-based initiatives for governance were recently unveiled in Delhi, earlier this week. During the launch, the Minister for Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), Ravi Shankar Prasad, said that the cities will become smarter only if technologies are properly leveraged and that the objectives of Digital India can be achieved through indigenous, developmental, low-cost, and inclusive technology.

National Urban Digital Mission

The National Urban Digital Mission (NUDM) will create a shared digital infrastructure to support cities and towns. It will institutionalise a citizen-centric and ecosystem-driven approach to urban governance and service delivery for 2,022 cities by 2022, and across all cities and towns in India by 2024. It will create a shared digital infrastructure that can consolidate and cross-leverage the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs’ various digital initiatives.

India Urban Data Exchange

The India Urban Data Exchange (IUDX) has been developed by the Smart Cities Mission in partnership with the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru. IUDX is a seamless interface for data providers and users, including urban local bodies (ULBs), to share, request, and access datasets related to cities and urban governance and service delivery.

IUDX is an open-source software platform that facilitates the secure, authenticated, and managed exchange of data among data platforms, third-party authenticated and authorised applications, and other sources.

IUDX is designed to address the problem of data silos, both within and across cities. Cities generate large volumes of data, which are recorded by a wide range of entities, both within the government and across the industry, academia, and society. The combination of these datasets can enable rapid innovation and offer a better understanding of and planning for urban needs and challenges.

SmartCode Platform

SmartCode is a platform that enables all ecosystem stakeholders to contribute to a repository of open-source code for solutions and applications for urban governance. It will address the challenges that ULBs face when deploying digital applications to solve urban challenges, by enabling cities to take advantage of existing codes and customising them to suit local needs.

As a repository of open-source software, the source code available on the platform will be free to use without any licensing or subscription fees, thus limiting costs to those involved.

 New Smart Cities Website and GMIS

To better connect with people on the Smart Cities Mission efforts and achievements, and to make it easier for ULBs and citizens to access resources related to their work, the Smart Cities Mission website has been redesigned to be a single stop for all smart city initiatives.

The geospatial management information system (GMIS) has also been integrated on the website. Through a seamless and unified interface, it aggregates all mission-related information from various platforms. The website is a highly effective communication and outreach tool.

Since its launch in 2015, the Smart Cities Mission has made significant strides in its efforts to ensure that the benefits of technology reach all citizens. Over the last year, the mission has seen accelerated project implementation with Smart Cities focusing on grounding and completing projects. Also, over 50 smart cities have transformed their Integrated Command and Control Centres (ICCCs) into COVID-19 war rooms.

Further, the Climate Smart Cities Assessment Framework (CSCAF) was rolled out in 100 smart cities to help cities with climate change-based urban design and governance. The second round of annual assessment is currently underway.  A Climate Centre for Cities (C3) has been established in the National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA. Several national competitions like the India Cycles4Change Challenge, Streets for People, and Nurturing Neighbourhoods have also been implemented.

There is an increasing demand for places to live that have infrastructure suited for the 21st century. Cities are emerging as hubs and the heart of technological innovation;  characterised by an ongoing shift from technology parks in suburban areas, to entrepreneurial activity within cities, especially during the age of COVID-19. The continuous rise of tech cities provides opportunities for businesses and employment. Traditional manufacturing and routine cognitive skills jobs are diminishing and the creation of new sources of employment and growth is vital to maintain competitiveness, reduce poverty, and increase shared prosperity to help lessen the impacts of the pandemic. “Urban tech” and “smart cities” technologies are changing how residents engage city services and move through public space.

A global tech market advisory firm has found that there are currently over 13,000 microcities globally, their research states. Microcities or “cities within cities” are amenity-packed and designed to meet the needs of technology-driven residents. Microcity clusters are generally located in and around airports, ports, international rail stations, venues, malls, corporate and university campuses, office parks, and other highly concentrated urban zones. This way, developers can make not only a community for citizens but places that cater to the needs of the public especially during this new normal brought upon by the pandemic.

Tech firms predict microcities will remain key for urban technology innovation. A wide range of technology vendors provides a robust range of options such as private 5G networks, data analytics and AI, IoT platforms and industrial systems for airports, campuses and railway stations for these microcities or urban tech cities. Common technologies deployed across all microcity types include smart cameras and biometrics, robotics and automation, digital signage, private Wi-Fi and 5G networks and other advanced technologies. These innovations and solutions allow developers to address specific challenges related to people flow management, access and security, overall customer experience and environmental impact while generating cost savings through maximising operational efficiencies.

The Philippines is a perfect prospect for urban tech. And within the nation, the city that best reflects what a true tech hub might stem from is Cebu City, the second-largest metropolitan. The Philippines is the fastest growing economy in Asia and Cebu is the fastest growing city in the Philippines. An article list several reasons why Cebu is the perfect candidate for an urban tech hub including rapid growth, rapid growth, better traffic, lower cost of living and readily available commercial and residential options

Cebu’s IT Park and Business Parks may be nearly at leasing capacity, but many more commercial and residential projects are being built. Anyone who has spent time in Cebu recently will be surprised at the sheer volume of construction either under way or earmarked to start shortly. Alongside the continuing expansion of IT Park and Business Park, a plethora of exciting new developments are due to be completed over the next 4–5 years providing an ever-expanding range of living and working environments for entrepreneurs.

The recently concluded the Roadmap Study for Sustainable Urban Development in Metro Cebu (Metro Cebu Roadmap) citing solid growth of 5.8% GDP and 1 million new jobs to be created by 2050 once the roadmap is fully implemented. The roadmap can be the city’s blueprint for sustainable economic development and provides all local stakeholders with a clear vision for the future. Also, there is the exciting prospective addition of the Cebu Bus Rapid Transit System which is a mass transit system for Cebu City.

Nations are also looking for ways to keep up with the ever-changing framework of technology and the pandemic only hastened the inevitable process. The unending marathon of making a sustainable future for every country drives the inspiration behind the development of urban tech cities. Microcities built on the ideas mentioned in the research aim to create a more effective, data-driven, safer and improved technological experience for citizens and their government.

According to an National University Singapore (NUS) report, Singapore has warmed notably since the mid-1970s when rapid urbanisation took place, at a rate of 0.25 degrees Celsius per decade according to the Meteorological Service Singapore.

“The rate is higher than the global average rate of 0.17 degree Celsius per decade since 1970, based on data from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. If the current urban development approach remains unchanged, local warming will lead to a rise in electricity demand for cooling and the risk of residents suffering from heat stress.”

Study to help find out how to keep Singapore cool and improve urban climate resilience

Presidential Young Professor Dr Yuan Chao from the Department of Architecture at the NUS School of Design and Environment led a team to examine the heat balance in the street canyon – where the street is flanked by buildings on both sides – and developed a user-friendly Geographic Information System (GIS) tool to estimate the impact of urban planning on anthropogenic heat dispersion.

Dr Yuan Chao, Dr Mei Shuojun, Dr He Wenhui and Ms Zhang Liqing investigated the transient street air warming procedure and developed a practical GIS-based model to estimate how much and how fast the air temperature will be increased by anthropogenic heat.

Dr Yuan observed, “The air temperature increment in residential areas could be even higher in the future due to rapid global warming and urban development. It could increase the risk of residents in tropical cities suffering from more frequent and intensive long-term heat stress and short-term heatwaves.”

Dr Yuan said that “Due to the huge uncertainty caused by urbanisation and global warming, the new GIS-based analytical model is a feasible tool to deal with numerous microclimate scenarios to help Singapore stay cool.”

Next steps – tackling heat problems globally

The model can be easily adopted in cities overseas. By connecting this model with global and regional scale models, city-level findings can also be used to tackle heat problems globally.

The team will explore working with other research teams working on global and regional scale models in the near future. They have also identified air pollution as another important urban climate issue that will also be integrated into this GIS tool.


PHOTO CREDIT: https://news.nus.edu.sg/
Photo: Dr Yuan Chao showing the results of air temperature increase by anthropogenic heat in various regions using the GIS tool developed by his team.

The Minister of Tribal Affairs, Arjun Munda, recently virtually launched ShramShakti, a national migration support portal. It was unveiled through a video conference at a programme held at Panjim, Goa. The portal will collect data related to tribal migrant workers and link them with the existing welfare schemes.

According to a press release, the portal will also aid the creation and development of state- and national-level programmes for migrant workers. The Minister launched a tribal migration cell, a tribal museum at Goa, and ShramSaathi, which is a training manual for migrant workers.

The Chief Minister of Goa, Pramod Sawant, also launched a migration cell in Goa to facilitate and support migrants who come from different states. Speaking at the occasion, Minister Munda mentioned that the lack of real-time data on migrants is the biggest challenge for state and national governments to formulate effective strategies and policy decisions for the welfare of migrant workers at both source and destination states.

The migration of the tribal population is distress-driven, and the migrants are exposed to difficult and unsafe conditions. Sometimes they face trafficking or wage harassment issues including many occupational hazards at their workplace, the Minister said.

India has the world’s largest diaspora with about 18 million people born there now living abroad, according to the director of the United Nation’s Population Division at the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

The Minister explained that the tribal migration repository, ShramShakti will be able to successfully address the data gap and empower migrant workers who generally migrate in search of employment and income generation. It would also help the government to link the migrant population with the existing Welfare Scheme- under Atam Nirbhar Bharat. The data that will be recorded via Shram Shakti include demographic profiles, livelihood options, skill mapping, and migration patterns.

The government also launched the tribal training module ShramSaathi, which will ensure that the process of livelihood migration is safe and productive. Tribal migrant workers often have low awareness about their rights and entitlements and ways to access services and social security in source and destination areas, the Minister explained. After training using this module, tribal migrant workers will be able to demand and access services and rights related to livelihood and social security at their village before migration, as well after migration at destination towns and cities.

Chief Minister Sawant noted that Goa is going to be the first destination state of India to set up a dedicated migration cell to address diverse issues of migrant workers. The cell will address multiple needs of migrants, including legal support, skill development, job linkages, access to public services health, insurance, and financial inclusion.

Earlier this month, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs received the SKOCH Challenger Award for Best Performance in e-Governance for its initiatives taken during last year. The Ministry also received 3 Gold Awards for its initiatives. These included the eco-rehabilitation of tribal villages through innovative design in water management using ice-stupa; Swasthya: Tribal Health and Nutritional Portal; and the Performance Dashboard- Empowering Tribals Transforming India.

The Housing Development Board, Singapore launched the HDB Flat Portal. The one-stop online platform will make it easier for prospective buyers and sellers streamline the process. The Minister for National Development, Desmond Lee announced, “This new portal will make it more convenient for home buyers and sellers to gather information on the purchase or sale of a flat through a single integrated platform”.

Some of the salient features of the portal include a customised financial calculator for buyers to check their budget and payment plan and sellers to estimate sales proceeds, and flat listings collating information on current and upcoming Build-to-Order (BTO) launches.

The website will also have loan listings for buyers to get information on housing loans offered by HDB and participating financial institutions, said Mr Lee. He added that HDB is looking to include resale flat listings in subsequent phases of the portal’s rollout. The HDB Flat Portal is the second phase of the HDB Resale Portal launched in January 2018.

Its launch took place after a series of engagement sessions with industry players and stakeholders, he said. “The HDB Resale Portal has halved the time needed for resale flat transactions from 16 weeks to around 8 weeks and reduced the number of appointments with HDB from two to one,” said Mr Lee. “We will continue to look into ways to further improve the transaction process for HDB home buyers and sellers.”

Buyers can use the suggested payment plan in the portal as a benchmark when talking to property or bank consultants before purchasing a resale flat, said Ms Christine Sun, head of research and consultancy at OrangeTee & Tie​​​​​​​. The section on upcoming Build-to-Order (BTO) flats is also helpful as buyers can view information on upcoming launches and subscription rates of previous launches in one website, speeding up the search process, she added.

Features of the online portal:

The portal has provisions for every buyer and seller to have a profile which requires a login via SingPass. The website also has a “My Flat Dashboard” which tracks the number and category of the application you want to make.

Another fascinating feature is called “Finding a Flat”. Using this feature a buyer can input his/her price, location, flat type, waiting time, and mode of sale preferences and can get suitable results based on them.

Apart from making the transactions move twice as fast, the portal significantly reduces the amount of previously required administrative work and the number of appointments. Documentation and formalities like Submitting a resale checklist, applying for flat valuation, HDB loan application letter which earlier had to be done on independent websites can now be done in a single place.

This portal will also enable less reliance on property agents. All their functions like linking the buyer and seller, driving the schedule on transactions and formalities are managed effectively by the portal itself without any charge or fee.

The HDB Online portal is a boon for the Lion City’s citizens helping them realise the dream to own a house by simplifying and accelerating the process.

Singapore government is taking steps towards expanding the commercial use of drones to manage air traffic in future skies. In the first of such trials which are scheduled for March this year, multiple drones will take to the skies near Marina South Pier to test the effectiveness of an unmanned air traffic management system. If the trial is successful, it could be used to safely and efficiently manage drone traffic at scale.

The drones are built-in with a technology that makes sure that it does not collide with other drones using an automated system. This system can deconflict and monitor multiple drones flying in Singapore’s limited air space.

Sanjay Suresh, Head, Business Development, Nova Sytems Asia shared that first, the system lays out the flight plan for the drone after checking the flight schedule and path of other drones. The system also can alert the done through multiple channels in case there is a change in other drone’s direction or flight time.

The team at Nova Sytems has run numerous tests with more than 500 drones at the same time in a virtual setting. The live test that is scheduled for the second week March is the final milestone before the project is launched. Up to 6 drones will fly above the waters in the Maritime Drone Estate near the Marina South Pier. This minimises the risk to people and property while simulating real-time marine use cases.

The team at Nova Asia

“We want to fully stress test the system to make sure that a package needs to be delivered from the shore to a ship is fully aware that there are other drones performing rescue operations and doing vessel checks. We want to do this as we see it as a very possible future scenario” says Ryan Lee, Managing Director, Nova Systems Asia.

Data like the ship positions and scheduled movements will be included to help drones avoid them during the trial. The operators can also add weather conditions and flight patterns of migratory birds in future so that the drones can respond to these situations

The trial is also pivotal for the authorities as it will help them set in place the regulations with drone use likely to be ubiquitous in the near future. Ryan shares that the days are not far when people might have their own drones fetching them meals and goods from the market. Therefore, it is important to set regulations in place on time.

In trying to understand an unmanned traffic management system and the need to test it we found out that aircraft are guided safely by air traffic controllers communicating with pilots via radio, a system known as air traffic management (ATM). This direct, point-to-point, line-of-sight communication between an operator and an aircraft is the industry’s standard mode of operation. But estimates show that the growth of commercial air traffic is will ultimately exceed the capacity of a human-centred system—and this is just for human-piloted flights.

As unmanned and self-piloted operations continue to multiply, ATM systems will need to shift to a more scalable model: a digital system that can monitor and manage increased activity. This system is called Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM), or a networked collection of services that communicate together based on common rules. Rather than relying on centralised control, UTM frameworks around the world will use the principle of distributed authority, which opens up the system to more service providers who can adapt as the market evolves and needs change.

In practice, UTM means aircraft will no longer have to speak to a single entity, such as an assigned air traffic controller. Instead, it will be able to communicate freely with multiple service suppliers. These suppliers will be held to relevant safety, security and performance standards by authorities, and will be able to coordinate with the rest of the network to make efficient decisions based on specific flight objectives. The transition will be gradual, but one that is important for the global aviation system’s future viability.

A three-fold improvement in the efficiency of solar-to-hydrogen energy conversion can facilitate solar energy harvesting technology, according to environmental scientists at City University of Hong Kong (CityU).

This research outcome could contribute to tackling the global energy shortage and provide new insights into the development of solar-to-fuel materials for photocatalytic applications in the emerging field of hydrogen technology.

The research team led by Dr Sam Hsu Hsien-yi, Assistant Professor in the School of Energy and Environment (SEE) at CityU, has developed novel lead-free bismuth-based hybrid organic-inorganic perovskites (HOIPs) with a semiconductor heterojunction structure.

The heterojunction structure could serve as a driving force to enhance the charge carrier transportation which is beneficial for hydrogen production under visible-light irradiation without the addition of co-catalysts such as platinum or ruthenium.

The research is featured as the cover of the prestigious international journal Advanced Functional Materials under the title “In-situ formation of bismuth-based perovskite heterostructures for high-performance co-catalyst-free photocatalytic hydrogen evolution”.

In the past few years, HOIPs have been widely used in solar energy conversion because of their remarkable photoelectric effects and extraordinary photovoltaic performance.

However, their application in the field of photocatalysis is limited. Besides, most comprehensively developed HOIPs comprise toxic metal lead, raising concerns about environmental health threats.

“As a result, we would like to construct a lead-free HOIP material that can drive the photocatalytic hydrogen production without a noble-metal co-catalyst,” said Dr. Hsu.

In the process of exploring and developing their application for the production of photocatalytic hydrogen, Dr. Hsu’s team discovered a straightforward method for constructing a junction structure, which led to improved photocatalytic activity.

They employed time-resolved photoluminescence spectra (TRPL) to characterise the materials. From the TRPL result, the charge transfer of the HOIP material with heterostructure exhibited a longer lifetime than the material without the heterostructure. The longer lifetime indicates a reduction of nonradiative recombination in the heterostructure.

Therefore, the in-situ formation of the heterostructure benefits photocatalytic performance. The result shows improved efficiency by three-fold and a more stabilized solar-induced hydrogen evolution for the perovskite heterojunctions, even without the addition of any noble metal co-catalyst under visible light irradiation.

Their next step is to improve hydrogen production performance. Dr. Hsu believed that in the long run, hydrogen would become one of the major energy sources. He hoped that this research would help to harvest solar energy in response to the global challenge of the energy crisis.

According to a recent article, Hong Kong and China-listed solar-energy stocks rose sharply on 23 December 2020, extending the sector’s momentum as investors bet on strong demand and favourable policies.

The upbeat trend came after Chinese authorities last week issued a draft regulation that would allow solar glass manufacturers to increase capacity free of restrictions.

Globally, an increasing number of countries have pledged to achieve carbon neutrality in the next few decades amid the falling costs of solar equipment and growing pressure to cut emissions.

It is expected that the trend to support global demand growth of more than 28% for solar power in 2021. And Chinese companies, which account for more than 70% of many key solar-energy equipment’s supply capacities globally, are poised to benefit from such a demand boom.

SINGAPORE, 5 November 2020 – The Business Innovations Generator (BIG) Incubation Programme offered by the Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (IIE) at the Singapore Management University (SMU) has unveiled 27 new start-ups accepted into its third and final cohort for 2020. (More information about the start-ups can be found in Annex A).

The latest intake is BIG’s largest since its inception in 2009, surpassing the 19 start-ups it had accepted for incubation in May.

The applications were assessed based on the viability of their business models, validated market needs and potential, as well as the attributes of the founding team. The applicants went through a rigorous screening process, having to clear three stages in the application journey before they pitch to an intake panel made up of industry experts and IIE’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence.

48% of the 27 incubated start-ups were related to Smart Nation and Digital Economy. Digital, Transformation is among one of the few strategic focuses for SMU and SMU IIE is well placed to guide and value add to these start-ups through its masterclasses and mentorship by practitioners. The companies in the new cohort span across services in the sectors such as Digital Health, Education, and Community & Lifestyle. Most of them are in the Minimal Viable Product (MVP) and Prototype stage.

“While deep-tech innovations and smart solutions that disrupt businesses can be a gamechanger, the success of a start-up is not just about its technology or know-how. It also has to be on the fundamentals of adopting the right mindsets. That is why at Business Innovations Generator, we look deeper into founders’ mindsets – on their coachability, integrity, grit and community-orientation,” said Shirley Wong, Entrepreneur-in-Residence at SMU IIE.

Shirley added: “We believe that these attributes lay the foundation of what it takes to be a changemaker and successful entrepreneur.”

With a strong founder-centric focus, the BIG incubation programme is highly curated and is designed to provide the start-up founders with the support they need to focus on their product development and to reach their development milestones. (Please refer to Annex B for the list of support provided to the start-ups)

One of the core programmes organised for incubatees include a series of BIG Masterclasses, which equip the founders with knowledge on topics such as sales strategy, digital marketing, fundraising, understanding term sheets, and legal advisory.

“We found BIG Masterclasses relevant and very insightful. The most recent one we attended was on the topic of market readiness. It was an essential springboard for us to learn strategies on marketing a standard product to different target groups – especially the challenging unassuming customers we have to convince. The expert knowledge that was imparted was unmatched compared to what we get from just reading – the real value comes from field experts who went ahead of us and cared enough to teach what they knew,” shared Jessie Imakoji, co-founder of Girlsourced Tech, an incubatee from the January 2020 cohort who attended the masterclass conducted by IIE’s Chief Marketing Officer-in-Residence, Christina Lim.

Started in 2009, BIG programme is an intensive four-month founder centric, equity-free programme that offers early-stage start-ups and student founders the opportunity to validate their business plans, gain access to industry experts as advisors and grant opportunities.

The incubator accepts three cohorts of pre-seed and seed stage start-ups a year (in January, May and September), they can be SMU affiliated or non-SMU affiliated.

A number of incubated start-ups by SMU alumni have gained significant achievements. One example is TurtleTree Labs co-founded by SMU alumna Lin Fengru, the first biotech company in the world to create lab-grown milk. The start-up emerged as the winner of Entrepreneur World Cup in October 2020 and received US$500,000 in cash prize. Another start-up BondEvalue, founded by SMU alumnus Rahul Banerjee, was approved by the Monetary Authority of Singapore to operate the world’s first blockchain bond exchange in the same month.

The incubation programme is agnostic and welcomes start-ups from a wide range of industries; however, there has been a more deliberate focus on digital, sustainable urban technologies in the recent years. This is in line with IIE’s objective of nurturing future leaders in making meaningful impact on society.

Start-ups interested to join the incubator in the upcoming January 2021 cohort can fill up the interest form at: https://iie.smu.edu.sg/apply-for-incubation. They will be notified when applications open.

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