How Asia Pacific is embracing the smart city revolution

Cities are exploring the use of sensors, data analytics, and artificial intelligence to create urban environments that live and breathe technology.

May 10, 2018

In Singapore, ubiquitous lampposts that dot roadsides will soon do more than just light the way for drivers. They’re being turned into a treasure trove of data.

The island Republic is aiming to use lampposts as sensors to collect everything from temperature to wind speed, and even record and recognize faces of people walking the streets.

This is the latest in a series of policies rolled out to support the Smart Nation vision– Singapore’s version of a smart city plan – that aims to integrate technology into everyday living.

The Lion City is not alone. All across the Asia Pacific region, cities are exploring the use of sensors, data analytics, and artificial intelligence to create urban environments that live and breathe technology.

Smarter investments

Eight Asian cities were listed among the top 20 spots in the recently released global smart city index 2017 by Juniper research. Singapore (1), Seoul (6), Tokyo (8), Melbourne (10), Wuxi (17), Yinchuan (18), Bhubaneswar (19) and Hangzhou (20) were listed among the best overall performers across four key areas of mobility, healthcare, safety and productivity.

The result has been a massive surge in spending on smart city technology.

Global tech spending on smart cities initiatives is forecasted to reach US$80 billion in 2018, with figures expected to accelerate further to US$135 billion in 2021, according to International Data Corporation (IDC). Asia accounts for a large part of the jump in demand, with US$63.4 billion set aside for smart cities by Asia Pacific cities alone.

Changing urban spaces

Why is Asia leading the charge? For one, urbanization in the region will happen on an unprecedented scale over the next 20 years.

More than 550 million people are expected to move to cities in Asia Pacific by 2030, where they will account for more than 85 percent of gross domestic product, and bring the urban share of the population to roughly 44 percent.

Smart cities bring technologies that can help urban centers cope with living spaces, manage energy consumption and reduce pollution.

“Developments in smart city technologies will have a significant impact on how we use urban space,” says Albert Ovidi, chief operating officer, JLL Asia Pacific. “Proptech, the convergence of technology and real estate, is fast transforming the way cities and buildings operate, and we’re seeing some fascinating examples of how the application of technology can solve property problems in novel ways.”

Building future-ready cities empowered by technology

Tokyo and Seoul are the two of the four Asian global giants turning to smart city technology to improve quality life and environmental issues.

For instance, South Korea’s rapidly-aging population has directed one of Seoul’s smart city initiatives to focus on elderly care. Its ‘ubiquitous health’ strategy enables elderly citizens to access healthcare and enhanced caregiving through internet-connected smart devices such as sensors and monitoring devices.

These aid in alerting healthcare workers to seniors in distress, cutting down the time required for help to reach them. All of this is possible because of the city’s extensive ICT infrastructure networks and fibre optic networks that are already in place.

In the area of sustainability, Tokyo is embracing the possibilities of technology and real estate to lead in sustainable energy solutions, and its smart city strategy is focused largely on improve its energy security and efficiency.

Since 2010, Tokyo introduced the world’s first urban cap-and-trade program for large facilities, including office buildings, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government aims to reduce greenhouse gas emission by 30 percent reduction by 2030 while tapping on innovations such as Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT) to achieve the ambitious goal of a zero emissions city in the future.

“Asia Pacific’s cities continue to experience phenomenal rates of change,” says Jeremy Kelly, Director, Global Research, JLL. “Such rapid growth can lead to issues such as strains on infrastructure, affordability constraints and environmental degradation.”

“In order to maintain their growth over the longer term, Asia Pacific’s cities will need to focus on future-proofing through improved liveability as well as physical and technological infrastructure with technology,” he says.

This creates a network effect that will continue to grow across the region. As more APAC cities continue to boost their smart city infrastructure, the easier it will be for companies to roll out new technological applications.

And homes, workspaces and living environments in the region will be the better, greener and more efficient for it.