There’s something about Singapore

Temperature-cum-humidity sensor mounted on a lamp post makes use of a wireless sensor network to collect environmental data in the neighborhood.

Singapore’s smart city efforts have been covered extensively in the media, yet I learned two things in a recent conversation with two officials responsible for the underlying data platform. The first is that many of the U.S. smart city efforts are inefficient with data sharing and sensor deployment, and the second is that drones are absolutely terrifying.

Amos Tan, director of Smart Nation Solutions and Applications for Singapore, shared how Singapore has built out a network of sensors including connected cameras and funnels all of the data into a centralized platform. From there, the raw data is turned into useful information for each department.

For example, video cameras alongside a major road might offer traffic information, but not the actual videos of cars. Processing the data and sending only the relevant metadata to departments saves time and bandwidth, says Tan.

By using one network of sensors the city simplifies what is already a complex information gathering effort and also cuts costs and maintenance on the sensor network itself. This is not how things work in most cities in the U.S. In the U.S., specific departments buy smart city technology (usually in response to a specific grant) and don’t share the data with other city departments.

Of course, Singapore has a different set of laws governing surveillance and how data can be handled, which means that creating a city-wide sensor platform might never fly here. But speaking at an event at RSA this week, Hardik Bhatt, the CIO of Illinois, said the state is actually looking at ways to consolidate its connected devices under one umbrella to help secure it and manage it better.

However efficient Singapore is, it has some concerns shared by city leaders the world over. Tan is interested in understanding any startup or tech solution to stop and track drones. While drones are often discussed as a future delivery option or a way to get aerial imagery, Tan is worried that drones could become a remote bomb.

This is not an isolated fear. Earlier this month the  Cloud Security Alliance  and Securing Smart Cities released a report on Establishing a Safe and Secure Municipal Drone Program.  The report highlighted 5 different challenges associated with drones that cities need to consider. They are:

    • The need for more secure drones that can’t be highjacked or compromised.
    • Understanding how a city-wide drone system could be compromised at the cloud, the network layer and on the drones themselves and ensuring those elements are secure.
    • Figuring out a way to deal with “rogue drones,” establishing rules for no-fly zones and other regulatory and compliance measures.
    • Figuring out how to support automated operations and cooperation between drones.
    • Figuring out how to handle and regulate flying drones beyond the line of sight in national airspace.

The paper goes into greater depth, but after my conversation with Tan, I realized that if cities are really serious about adding connected sensors, better analytics and perhaps drones, they need to start thinking about these elements as part of a system, designed to work together and with security designed in from the beginning.

That’s not generally how government works, but maybe part of smarter cities will include smarter ways of thinking about adding technology to them.

Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis

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