Smartphones are used to improve City life in Singapore through Live Singapore

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In Nairobi the use of smartphones is a tragedy on the streets despite it being the most intelligent City in Africa. ‘Kanjos’ always have a hard time controlling pedestrians who walk in a busy highway while texting and teenagers who move around town taking selfies with everyone they meet. In Singapore the story is completely different, researchers have created a project that uses real-time data from phones to track and reflect the activities of the town. The urban life in Singapore is improved through Live Singapore.

LIVE Singapore provides people with access to a range of useful real-time information about their city by developing an open platform for the collection, elaboration and distribution of real-time data that reflect urban activity. Giving people visual and tangible access to real-time information about their city enables them to take their decisions more in sync with their environment, with what is actually happening around them.

Read: PSVs, Private Vehicles, decongesting Nairobi’s traffic and the right to access CBD

“We can analyze the pulse of the city, moment to moment,” says Carlo Ratti, Director of the MIT Senseable City lab, which runs the project as part of the Singapore-MIT alliance for Research and Technology. (SMART).

“Over the past decade, digital technologies have begun to blanket our cities, forming the backbone of a large, intelligent infrastructure,” says Ratti, who believes cities have become open-air computers storing information that should be harnessed and tapped into.

The team is exploring the use of data in Singapore due to its unique existence as a city, nation and island. “It becomes an ideal lab to study the link between technology and city planning,” says Ratti.

Singaporeans could make day-to-day decisions based on their environment by tapping in to real-time information about their city. This is done through creating a feedback loop between people, their actions and their city — whilst simultaneously contributing to the data they are collecting.

The team provides that such feedback can impact factors influencing daily life, ranging from overcrowding and traffic jams to temperature control and taxi availability. The more data available, the more impact it can have. “The power increases exponentially,” says Ratti. One example is the monitoring of mobile phone use throughout the city-state to track the movements of people and provide information about crowding. According to the MIT Senseable city lab, mobile phone penetration in Singapore is more than 140%, as people own more than one mobile phone.

By using data from cell phone networks in Singapore, maps can be created to visualize where usage is highest — and therefore where the number of people is highest. The use of urban space can be revealed in real-time. A more environmental example is the tracking of people and vehicles during rainfall. Singapore’s tropical climate means rainfall is frequent and torrential.

“The local weather has a major impact on the behavior of a population,” says Gerhart Schmitt, Professor of Information Architecture and Founding Director of the Singapore-ETH Centre in Singapore. “It is at the same time influenced by and influencing the population,” he says.

People in the city can be informed about factors like the air quality, the route one plans to use and traffic jams predictions. This is made possible through visualization technologies developed by Schmitt’s center.

According to Schmitt, taxis make up almost 1/5 of the car transportation load in Singapore and numbers are expected to be similar in other high-density cities worldwide. “It’s important…to visualize the availability of taxis,” says Schmitt.

For LIVE Singapore, Ratti’s team have combined this demand for taxis with the city’s climate. Their sample visualization blends taxi locations and rainfall data to enable the development of apps helping locals hail taxis during a downpour. The use of this form of data is somewhat limitless with potential and has also been used to visualize temperature hotspots based on the ‘heat island’ effect where buildings, cars and the use of cooling units causes temperatures to rise, as well as broader scale information such as the global reach of Singapore’s ports and airports reports CNN.

Schmitt’s teams are exploring the uses of public transport data generated from smart-card based ticketing systems now common across the world and further researching the urban heat island effects in Singapore, which they believe will eventually reduce liveability. “It has become quite serious,” he says.

Ratti and his team have a goal to make the data readily available and accessible, to create a platform on which others access the data and create new apps tailored to the city’s needs. For they are only based in Singapore. “The way it will change people’s lives is through different types of apps,” says Ratti. “LIVE Singapore! can start ideas for combining data, which can become apps,” he says.

Data Collider is Ratti’s follow-up data project that will be launched in six months to come. “Anybody can use it to visualize and explore the data and learn more about their city,” he says. Live Singapore is a project that i believe if adopted by Kenyans it can probably help reduce traffic jams.

 

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Erick Vateta
Tech Editor at Kachwanya.com
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Erick Vateta is a lawyer by training, poet, script and creative writer by talent, a model, and tech enthusiast. He covers International tech trends, data security and cyber attacks.
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