Big data projects on improving urban planning and living on show at URA Centre

Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said that authorities would not lose sight of the importance of data privacy.
Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said that authorities would not lose sight of the importance of data privacy.ST PHOTO: AZMI ATHNI

SINGAPORE - From simulating the effects of an MRT breakdown to planning literally cooler new towns, a new exhibition gives insights into how digital data and modelling can be used to improve planning and urban life.

Yet, even as Singapore goes digital in a big way, authorities will not lose sight of the importance of data privacy and the human element, said Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong at the exhibition's launch on Tuesday (June 28).

"Data is a useful way of understanding human behaviour and preferences... but people cannot be reduced into digits or pixels in a graphic display," he said.

Running at the URA Centre in Maxwell Road until Sept 17, the Our Digital World exhibition presents projects such as a model of the public transport system that can simulate various scenarios such as MRT platform overcrowding and breakdowns, to identify bottlenecks and study how to improve efficiency.

That project, by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research's Institute of High Performance Computing, is still under development.

But other featured tools are already being used by planners, such as one that taps historical EZ-link data to investigate how new developments might affect traffic flow.

One of those who has used this Urban Engines Aware Dashboard is Urban Redevelopment Authority senior planner Hengky Tay.

"As we plan new developments, we have to bear in mind where the infrastructure might have capacity issues," said Mr Tay.

The dashboard can show commuter patterns and areas of potential congestion - crowded bus stops or MRT stations - under different conditions, such as during regular working days, school holidays and public holidays.

In making decisions such as where to release new Government land sales sites, Mr Tay consults such data to see what areas "can be opened up without causing disruption to commuter traffic".

Other exhibits show how data can also be harnessed by the community, such as an app that mobilises volunteers when needed at short notice, based on their location.

Visitors can also put on a headset to take 3D virtual reality flying or walking tours of downtown Singapore, powered by Oculus Rift technology - as Mr Wong himself did at the launch on Tuesday. This is available from noon till 2pm, Mondays to Fridays, as it must take place under supervision.