Projects to pilot the S'pore of tomorrow

(Above) One of online retail giant Amazon's test drones for delivering goods. One of the ideas in the Infocomm Media 2025 masterplan is to have drones deliver small packages to shoppers.
(Above) One of online retail giant Amazon's test drones for delivering goods. One of the ideas in the Infocomm Media 2025 masterplan is to have drones deliver small packages to shoppers. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Driverless vehicles, home-integrated sensors are ideas in the works as masterplan outlines possibilities in the drive for a smart nation

Beefing up cyber security amid tech transformation

Shop online in future and your package could be delivered to you quickly by a drone.

If you live alone, sensors on the floor or in the rugs could monitor your weight and gait as you move around at home, and alert emergency services if you have an accident.

Last month, the Infocomm Media 2025 masterplan outlined these and other "smart nation" possibilities as it set out how technology could transform the ways people live, learn, work and play in Singapore.

The 70-page plan, which was developed by representatives from the private and public sectors and accepted by the Government, noted that some of the ideas will require further study, while others are in the works.


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The Land Transport Authority (LTA), for example, has asked companies to submit ideas on how to develop a fleet of driverless vehicles that could be used as a door-to-door, taxi-like service. This could be tested at a 6km network of roads set aside near Buona Vista for such trials.

The Jurong Lake District is also home to several projects, including one where sensors allow park lighting to be adjusted based on the time of the day and whether there are people in the vicinity.

But the plan also noted that investments will be needed in several areas, including cyber security, infrastructure and communications.

Experts and researchers have also said that Singapore needs to review its laws on data security, and beef up protection against malicious hackers in an increasingly connected society.

Mr David Koh, chief executive of the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore, said at a recent cyber-security conference in Tel Aviv, Israel: "There will be significant security concerns surrounding the protection of an increasingly large amount of data that comes with the growth of our Smart Nation, especially data related to personal privacy and national security."

Last year, hackers breached the customer database of karaoke company K Box, and leaked the mobile phone numbers, identification card numbers and addresses of more than 317,000 members.

In the same year, the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) admitted that 1,560 SingPass accounts could have been subject to unauthorised access, possibly exposing the citizens' data, from how much they earn to where they live, their cars' registration numbers and their children's names.

The breach was quickly plugged and IDA rolled out a more secure system in July this year.

Said Mr Koh: "If we do not recognise and manage such (cyber-security) risks, it could lead to cyber attacks with consequences that can be detrimental to a nation's well-being."

Experts and researchers in Singapore told The Straits Times that there are several ongoing projects aimed at fending off such attacks.

A team at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) is studying how to protect vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications. This would prevent vehicles from being hacked, and encrypt data sent to and from vehicles so people cannot steal the information.

In July, two American hackers demonstrated for a reporter how they could remotely take over a Jeep Cherokee car by targeting a vulnerable, Internet-connected computer feature in the dashboard.

They cut the car's brakes on an expressway while the reporter was driving it, and could map its route, among other things. The hackers' work spurred the US government to introduce an automotive security Bill to set new digital security standards for cars and trucks.

The NTU team is developing an on-board unit, similar to the one for prepaid CashCards, through which all data to and from the vehicle would have to pass. This unit will "lock" the data packets so that only intended recipients with private digital keys can retrieve the information.

All the encryption would be automated, so the car users would not need to carry out any additional steps. The researchers said, however, that some infrastructure might need to be retrofitted.

The NTU team's work is part of a smart mobility project by the university and semiconductor manufacturer NXP Semiconductors. The project, which will last until 2018, includes a test-bed at NTU's campus with 100 vehicles and 50 roadside units to research technologies for vehicles to communicate with one another and with infrastructure.

Last year, the National Research Foundation (NRF) also launched the National Cybersecurity Research and Development Programme, with $130 million over five years.

About $34.5 million was given to the first seven projects. They spanned areas from cyber forensics and intelligence to securing data in the cloud, which refers to software and services that run on the Internet, instead of locally on a person's computer.

The programme aims to improve cyber security, reliability, resilience and usability. "These areas include combating insider threats, threat detection, analysis and defence, cyberspace governance and policy research," said the NRF.

To help Singapore realise its smart nation ambitions, the Government is also boosting the country's physical infrastructure.

It is rolling out an islandwide network of "aggregation gateway boxes", which supply power to surveillance cameras, and traffic and weather sensors. These boxes also provide links to the Internet so that the collected data can be transmitted to the relevant public agencies quickly.

A new network will also go on trial by the end of the year at the Jurong Lake District to allow people to surf at high speeds without disruptions. This network, called a heterogeneous network or HetNet, will theoretically allow users to hop across 3G, 4G or Wi-Fi networks regardless of who operates them, during disruptions or when surfing is slow on one network.

All three telcos - Singtel, StarHub and M1 - and potential entrant MyRepublic will install equipment in common areas such as lifts, the Jurong East MRT station and bus interchange and pedestrian walkways.

The trial, however, will be confined to roaming within the telcos' own networks, due to the lack of a "robust commercial framework" for pricing inter-operator roaming, said IDA.

The Infocomm Media 2025 plan also recommended other installations, including underground data centres to handle the increasing amount of data.

Its authors added: "The nation should consider establishing a data centre corridor. This may involve constructing dedicated fibre rings to interconnect key data centre nodes in different locations across Singapore, to ensure dedicated, high-speed local connectivity."

They added that the Government should work with neighbouring countries to promote laying more subsea cables in the region, to boost Singapore's regional connectivity.

Private and public datasets, ranging from the weather to travel patterns and more, should also be collated in a database so people can use them to create more products and services.

While the Government has made more data available through its portal, data.gov.sg, there is currently no private sector equivalent.

Last month, experts at the inaugural Data Privacy Asia conference here also said that Singapore should follow the lead of countries such as the United States and Canada, and make it compulsory to notify customers and privacy commissions when personal information is compromised.

Singapore's Personal Data Protection Act does not require companies to report their data breaches.

Mr Wong Yu Han, director of strategy at the Cyber Security Agency, said that measures to counter data leaks are complex. He said Singapore is looking at revising its laws, without giving more details.

The Smart Nation Programme Office in the Prime Minister's Office said that the Government would continue to improve cyber security here, "but everyone has a part to play, and individuals and organisations must take steps to protect themselves".

It added: "Smart initiatives can transform lives, create more opportunities and bring people closer.

"A Smart Nation is not about creating a monument to technology, it is about serving people and building our collective future."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 04, 2015, with the headline 'Projects to pilot the S'pore of tomorrow'. Print Edition | Subscribe