The inner workings of a smart district
By Sandra Ang, Assistant Director, Smart District Division
Frequently when my friends talked to me about Smart District, they would refer to it as one entity in itself. However, Smart District, to me, is made up of many smaller components — smart energy management, smart retail and smart buildings, for example, are inter-connected through digital systems that can communicate with each other.
In Singapore, smart districts will be built up across the country, starting with Punggol Digital District (PDD) in the northeast. Developed and master planned by JTC, it’s slated to open in 2024, and it is envisioned to be the underlying Operating System (OS) of JTC Estates. The district will include smart features such as buildings with temperature optimising capability, autonomous buses and solar energy generation.
I am currently leading a joint team with JTC and ST Engineering that works on the Open Digital Platform (ODP) for smart districts such as PDD. The core fundamental principle that our team keeps in mind when we deal with multiple inter-linked components is to ensure that our users are able to have a 360-degree situational awareness on the variables, and how the variables interact to provide a larger frame of things.
In simple terms, 360-degree situational awareness is the comprehensive view of the overall picture in any given situation. More specifically, it is the perception of things around us, the comprehension of their meaning and the projection of what might happen in the future.
What helps us to deliver situational awareness to smart districts in Singapore is the Smart Nation Sensor Platform (SNSP), which connects whole-of-government sensor data on a unified platform. ODP, as the Smart District OS, allows SNSP to be connected to a district like PDD. The system allows responses in real-time for incidents such as faulty streetlights or flooding. In addition, it allows us to plan for improvements in the future by enabling us to understand historical trends through data insights.
Through situational awareness, SNSP helps government agencies create scalable, smarter spaces in their domain of expertise.
An open platform to connect
The ODP is an interoperability platform that centralises various smart solutions in a single district management system. It also uses AI to optimise resources in a building or district. Think of the ODP as the operating system for your phone, which controls the hardware onboard while also enabling you to run various apps smoothly and securely. The ODP is the same thing, but for an estate level. It integrates different smart systems in a building or district, enabling them to communicate and work together even though they use different messaging protocols, or have different hardware or software specifications.
In PDD, it enables smart devices -robots, lifts and systems that control water and electricity supply- in the district to “talk” to each other in real-time.
Since March 2021, the ODP has also been deployed as a trial in JTC’s headquarters, The JTC Summit. It helps run eight smart “verticals”, such as smart energy, lifts, document delivery robots, and smart meeting rooms.
Visualising through a digital twin
Just as important as connecting the various devices, the ODP is able to put together the information collected and translate data into predictable intelligence to determine the next course of action — this is where another component of the ODP — a digital twin — comes in.
As its name implies, it is a “twin” of the physical district that is mapped out on a digital platform through data that is live streamed from smart devices installed in the area.
This way, a real-time scenario can be constructed in the digital twin as a 3D visualisation of the real world. This digital twin helps make sense of all the real-time data and can also help make predictions of possible future outcomes.
This means district managers can respond proactively and run simulations for scenario-planning. For example, they can respond to flooding by redirecting traffic and finding ways to drain out rainwater more quickly.
In addition, companies and members of the PDD community can use the digital twin of the ODP to draw data, as well as test and develop new smart solutions, before deploying them “live” in the physical estate.
Realising the benefits
Already, PDD is set to reap some of the benefits of the situational awareness provided by the ODP.
As a result of better district operations enabled by the ODP, energy and water consumption are expected to reduce by 30 per cent in the district.
In the future, residents can also expect predictive, pre-emptive and personalised delivery of services.
From waste management to district cooling, managers will have the situational awareness to deploy manpower and maintenance resources to ensure that community facilities and services are available to residents.
In the long term
Many other long-term benefits will come with situational awareness, which is made possible through the ODP.
For example, footfall monitoring could help managers better plan retail spaces in the community, to avoid congestion and overcrowding.
The integration of robots into estate management can also help automate tedious tasks such as mail delivery. This is currently being tested in The JTC Summit building.
More importantly, as our ability to gather and simulate more data increases, the more we can predict and act on issues such as resource optimisation to reduce waste and carbon footprint. This will eventually help us address bigger concerns like climate change and sustainability.
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