Getting IoT devices to work together in Singapore’s Smart Nation

By Elin Tan, Assistant Director, Platform Management

Have you watched the recently concluded Tokyo Olympics? And which is your favourite event? I personally enjoy watching sports involving teamwork and coordination like Artistic Swimming. It is amazing to see how various members of the teams synchronised their every move despite not being able to see each other’s movement under water. Timing and coordination are key to this performance success. In similar vein, same can be said for connected devices and systems in the sensor network of a Smart Nation.

The connected devices and systems need to perform their silo functions while at the same time, coordinate seamlessly with each other within the ecosystem to come together as a totality solution.

Each device collects and carries vital data that help reveal what is happening on the ground, from temperature readings to crowd numbers. The data is then aggregated to form a bigger picture.

Interoperability is, therefore, a critical part of Singapore’s Smart Nation Sensor Platform (SNSP), the national whole-of-government platform that provides smart city technologies for different domain experts across the government.

Without this, data will be stuck in silos across different agencies, when it could have delivered improved visibility to other agencies to better serve citizens. A smart nation cannot be smart if it does not have all the data on hand.

The SNSP is in itself a platform that supports many different sensor networks that collect a variety of data from various sources across Singapore.

This means it needs to have the ability to quickly and securely connect various Internet of Things (IoT) devices and IoT systems regardless of vendor, device type or technical specification.

To manage a smart housing estate, for instance, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) Smart Hub requires data from various sources, such as lighting in common areas as well as data from municipal services. Having multifaceted data source is important for HDB to have a good oversight of what is happening in its towns.

To facilitate such flawless system communication, there are two aspects of interoperability that needs to be clearly defined — system-to-system integration and common IoT standards.

System-to-system integration

In GovTech, we are working on the Open Digital Platform (ODP) with JTC Corporation that enables system communication in SNSP by integrating different smart systems in a building or district. This way, robots can “talk” to lifts, doors and other systems in a building.

As a district-level interoperability product in SNSP, ODP provides the seamless integration of district systems via automatic discovery, protocol translation and standardisation. In layman’s terms, ODP functions like a translator between different systems, allowing systems to read different languages and communicate with each other. So, data sources such as buildings and autonomous vehicles can have different protocols and still work with one another through the ODP.

Protocols are translated via a data distribution service (DDS) before sending it on to a data bus for processing. From here, the data is fed into applications that need it.

Common IoT standards

A second aspect of interoperability is creating common IoT standards to bridge different communication protocols, which allows various devices to not only exchange data but understand what it means.

One important effort here is the Web of Things (WoT) project by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). WoT is a global effort involving device manufacturers, researchers and developers that seeks to enable interoperability across IoT platforms and applications by preserving and complementing existing standards.

WoT’s architecture specifies a set of requirements that supports a wide variety of capabilities, such as devices on the edge of a network and virtual “things” on the cloud. It also supports gateways and proxies that are used to connect to the IoT devices.

WoT also comprises building blocks, which are modular components that work with the WoT architecture so they can communicate with one another.

A building block could be a component such as behaviour implementation, an API (application programming interface) and private security data.

Finally, the WoT model also includes something called a Thing Description. This is a central building block that is the entry point of a Thing. It is much like the index.html which often is the default homepage for a website that directs to its other subpages.

Ultimately, the WoT model aims to make IoT devices interoperable, just like how webpages can be viewed on different Web browsers and devices today.

This is one such effort that could add value to smart city platforms, to allow different IoT systems to work seamlessly.

Into the future

SNSP is constantly exploring ways to enhance interoperability of its platforms with other government smart systems. Through interoperability, SNSP aims to make it easier for government agencies across the board to access and make full use of the data from Singapore’s national sensor networks.

By doing so, the government, as a whole, can deliver better services and make improved decisions driven by a full set of available data.

Find out more about GovTech’s technical products and solutions on Singapore Government Developer Portal



SNSP develops whole-of-government platforms and solutions to sense, contextualise and act on 360° real-time sensor data. SNSP enables agencies to enhance planning, operations and service delivery to improve citizens’ quality of life.

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