Innovation

Singapore set to deliver future-ready traffic systems

17 July 2017 by Satyajeet Avasthi

Singapore set to deliver future-ready traffic systems

In keeping with its Smart Mobility 2030 vision, the country welcomes a first-of-its-kind Smart Mobility consortium. The consortium brings together leading industry partners to facilitate knowledge sharing and pooling of resources to create innovative and intelligent transport systems (ITS) that make road traffic safer and more efficient.

A collaboration between Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) and NXP Semiconductors, the consortium comprises multinational companies (MNCs), such as Red Hat, Car Club Singapore, ST Kinetics, Panasonic and Extreme Networks, among others. The consortium is a test bed for smart mobile technologies that aim to make commuting safer and more efficient.

ITS and its impact on travel

ITS are advanced applications that aim to provide innovative services to all kinds of vehicles and traffic management systems, ensuring that users are better informed. The systems intend to bring in an ecosystem where vehicles are better coordinated, safer and make ‘smarter’ use of transport networks.

And this comprehensive and sustainable ecosystem may soon become a reality in Singapore. Singapore’s Smart Mobility 2030 vision has laid out a plan that will integrate vehicles seamlessly into the infrastructure of the island, creating a future where all vehicles are linked to traffic lights, traffic cameras, even lamp posts. Once the backend is streamlined, cars will be equipped with smart display systems that relay information in real time.

“The Smart Mobility consortium is all about improving the life of Singaporeans and travellers with the application of best-in-class intelligent transport systems,” said Damien Wong, vice president and general manager, ASEAN at Red Hat.

“The consortium will work on many benefits, including improved traffic conditions, better quality of life, reduced carbon emissions and improved productivity for companies.”

Apart from working with the members of the consortium, the test bed enables all industry players, including start-ups, to test their equipment, applications and ITS solutions while enjoying the benefits of cost-sharing.

MNCs bring in expertise

The consortium has attracted a diverse set of MNCs, some of whom have been central in implementing the programme’s initiatives by investing in research, infrastructure and talent.

For instance, Panasonic has worked with NTU to create a next-gen electronics infrastructure for vehicles. The smart traffic camera technology automatically detects vehicles and the speed at which they are travelling on the test roads of the campus. If successfully rolled out, this may help avert traffic accidents and identify traffic violators.

Similarly, NXP Semiconductors has provided a secured communications system, which helps connect 50 cars, 35 lamp posts and 82 cameras throughout NTU’s campus. This provides the requisite backbone for the test bed.

A large part of the credit for getting the attention of these MNCs goes to Singapore’s well-established technology ecosystem, which offers the ideal platform for businesses to bring in their expertise for expansion and future growth.

According to Associate Professor Guan Yong Liang from the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at NTU, participation from MNCs is likely to increase in the future.

“There are a lot of enquiries from industry players and the consortium is likely to grow. NTU is welcoming MNCs who want to test their equipment applications and ITS solutions on the test bed,” he said.

“Smarter and safer vehicles connected to a smart transport network is an example of electronics powering a more intelligent and connected future,” said Pee Beng Kong, Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB)’s Director of Electronics.

“Singapore's rich ecosystem of industry players and test beds position us well for companies such as NXP to develop, test and commercialise smart mobility solutions before scaling them up for the world.”

Developing ITS talent

Cutting-edge technology like ITS needs top-of-the-line talent to take the project forward.

The members of the consortium have been working closely with students of NTU to make this possible. Although the university hasn’t developed a specific course for the Smart Mobility programme, students are trained on projects and can work for a year with other industry players and the university, said Guan.

“This year, 20 students are working on this project, up from about 10 to 15 who opted for it last year. The university emphasises on training our students with a practical approach, so that they will be industry-ready and capable of working in the ITS domain,” he added.

While NTU is focusing on projects to provide hands-on training, several international universities including the National University of Singapore offer a Master of Science in Transportation Systems and Management, which gives students the option to specialise in ITS and Transportation Demand Management.

And universities are not alone. Companies like Red Hat are also investing in building a talent pool of highly-skilled workers. Through its Red Hat Academy programme, the company is providing high schools and higher education institutions worldwide the technology and support to offer Red Hat courses and exams. This includes hands-on instruction, curriculum, labs, performance-based testing, and instructor support, encouraging students to learn in new and exciting ways.

Educational institutes like NTU and Singapore Polytechnic are partnering with Red Hat Academy to offer high-end training to help students use Red Hat’s technology (Linux, middleware, cloud technologies) and labs. Red Hat also works with authorised training partners to provide certification programmes.

These programmes are being ably supported by the LTA, which has partnered with Intelligent Transportation Society Singapore (ITSS) to develop talent in the sector. It aims to provide a platform for local tertiary students to exchange ideas with thought leaders and policy makers.

Data in the driver’s seat

Harnessing the unparalleled power of data is key to the success of the consortium. “In the past, Intelligent Transport Systems were often infrastructure-reliant. Today, greater emphasis is laid on data collection, analytics and the availability of relevant, useful information on the move,” said Chew Hock Yong, former CEO of the Land Transport Authority (LTA), in a press statement.

ITS are now part of Internet of Things (IoT), which is an inter-networking of physical devices, infrastructure, building, vehicles embedded with software, electronics or network connectivity that allow them to collect and exchange data.

According to Gartner, there will be 20.8 billion devices on the IoT by 2020. This will have widespread benefits in the next few years, impacting all industries from media, retail, environment monitoring, manufacturing and of course, transport. Many cities, such as Songdo in South Korea and Santander in Spain, have already deployed ITS to enable better management of their transport.

Wong agreed that large amounts of data need to be used in a very efficient manner in transportation. “Innovation across sectors, such as big data, cloud computing and Internet of Things, all began with the use of open source stack of trusted, high-performing technology platforms. The smart mobility vision is paving the way to create better technology in managing a connected transportation infrastructure using the open source stack.,” he said.

If Singapore is to remain an economic powerhouse and drive growth in the region, adopting ITS is no longer an option, but a necessity of these times. As population continues to grow, developing a ‘smarter’ transport ecosystem will have tremendous impact on sustainability of our development ambitions. The consortium is expected to lead from the front and showcase applications that can be easily scalable. When people and vehicular mobility become seamless with less pollution and greater safety, our dream of being a country of the future will come true. 

Edited by Sophie Chen and Wei Ting Goh