If you live in some major cities in Asia, you would probably be accustomed to the daily routine of congested traffic, poor water, and air quality management, flooding and urban-rural divide. Opulent residents and luxury high-rises are juxtaposed against the closely packed, deteriorated and decrepit housing units.
Taking the city of Bangkok, for instance, a few blocks away from the vibrant city center, glitzy malls and go-go bars, located one of the world’s oldest and largest slums where over 100,000 people are living way below the poverty line.
This baffling disparity is one of the many reasons why governments and municipalities are scouting for solutions that will ease the burgeoning urban challenges while providing its residents with basic life needs. Combining this agenda with digital technology, the term “Smart Cities” came to the public consciousness, but it has mostly been in the theoretical and conceptual senses.
Smart City, by definition, is an urban area that uses different types of IoT and sensors to collect data, analyze and interpret to gain meaningful insights in real time. The goal is to improve the quality of life of residents and visitors while increasing the city’s own sustainability and efficiency.
The good news is that over these past few years, we are starting to see more tangible initiatives being deployed, thanks to the advancement of technology that allows the cities to be “smart”. From the Internet of Things (IoT), sensors and mobility to connected infrastructure, open data collection and cloud computing, smart cities are no longer the waves of the future.
Through the push of public and private sectors, the deployment of these digital cities is burgeoning in hundreds of locations around the world. McKinsey estimated that the smart city industry is projected to be a $400 billion market by 2020, with 600 cities worldwide. These cities are expected to generate 60% of the world's GDP by 2025.
Realizing these pressing urban challenges, thousands of cities worldwide have begun to deploy smart city initiatives. In Asia, China is leading the pack with smart city initiatives amounting to a staggering 500 pilots, thanks to the push from the private-sector giants.
Few years ago, the Indian government has launched a Smart Cities Mission, which is a five-year plan for its central and state governments to provide $14 billion in funding between 2017 and 2022, kickstarting the development of 100 smart cities in the world’s second most populated country in the world.
In Southeast Asia, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have established the ASEAN Smart Cities Network (ASCN), which is a collaborative platform aimed to synergize smart city development efforts across ten member states and harness technological and digital solutions to improve the lives of people across the urban-rural continuum.
Despite the ambitious efforts, many smart city initiatives still did not materialize or are struggling miserably. This is often because the effort was overly focused on the technology aspect, instead of providing practical solutions. For instance, a government may deploy an initiative because it was technically feasible, not because it delivers a tangible benefit back to the city, people and businesses.
One of the key elements that is important for cities to evolve is the collaboration among stakeholders across all business verticals. The government bodies, private sector and community as a whole need to redefine their roles and relationships and how all parties can collaborate to transform the lives, well-being and safety of the people in the cities.
One of the rising stars for smart cities in Asia is Hangzhou, China which is hailed as the smartest city in the country. Following a path of close collaboration between the private sector technology companies and the public sector, the city has launched the “City Brain Project” which transforms Hangzhou into a city that monitors and responds to its own problems immediately and efficiently. Through data collection and real-time observation, the city was able to lower traffic congestion and manage traffic flow more efficiently.
On the healthcare side, iFlytek was deployed as a voice recognition technology to assist the Hangzhou First People’s Hospital, with service robots giving directions to patients and the installation of a voice-based medical filing system in the Stomatology department.
In the payment space, thanks to the mass adoption of Chinese mobile payment Alipay, Hangzhou residents can now pay for most taxis, public services, health care, supermarkets and convenience stores.
This is one of many great examples in Asia with many more inspiring initiatives to come. The time is now for all stakeholders to collaborate and catch up with technologies that really help improve lives.
ARTICLE WRITTEN BY: TANYATORN TONGWARANAN
Tanyatorn Tongwaranan is the Program Manager of Plug and Play Thailand APAC.
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