The drive to build a smart city, from now to 2030 and beyond
By Angela TAM
Do you know that Hong Kong people are really smart? According to IQ Research, Hong Kong tops the world's IQ ranking, with an average score of 108.
But as a city, how smart is Hong Kong? Singapore, which is joint top with Hong Kong on the IQ ranking, is aiming to be the first city in the world to become really smart, with bus routes to be coordinated by GPS and patients given follow-up consultations by video-conferencing to save everybody time. South Korea, which is second on the IQ ranking with 106, is believed to be a world leader in internet connectivity while Japan, third on 105, is looking to maintain its technological edge by conducting 5G field trials ahead of the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
For its part, Hong Kong is certainly preparing for a smart future. In June, PricewaterhouseCoopers Advisory Services Ltd (PwC) released its 'Report of Consultancy Study on Smart City Blueprint for Hong Kong', which was commissioned by the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer.
The PwC blueprint report envisages the development of Hong Kong into a smart city in four phases:
- Phase 1, from 2016 to 2017: awareness-raising with citizens knowing the Government has the vision, will and resources to turn Hong Kong into a smart city and pilot projects identified that can showcase Hong Kong's innovation and technology.
- Phase 2, from 2018 to 2023: initial, beneficial impact starts to be felt with, for example, faster travel times and more efficient government through data sharing across departments.
- Phase 3, from 2024 to 2027: improved operational efficiency delivery financial benefits. Analytics start to help people make informed choices in areas such as health, travel and education.
- Phase 4, from 2027 to 2030: integrated programmes driving culture of continuous improvement. Government commitment to quality of living and ease of doing business attracts talent and investment as Hong Kong is recognised as a super-connector.
Below is a brief look at developments to date under the six themes of smart city vision, namely smart mobility, smart economy, smart government, smart living, smart environment and smart people.
There is little new in the blueprint report under this heading, which suggests "developing strategic road map for intelligent transport systems (ITS) ... using real-time city wide traffic data"; adoption of electronic road pricing to reduce congestion; and integrating public transport information to better coordinate bus routes and capacity. Some suggestions are being implemented, such as new cycle routes in new towns and new development areas to encourage green transport and the introduction of HKeMobility by the Transport Department (TD) to facilitate journey planning. TD is also drafting a road map for smart mobility.
However, according to Ir Dr William H K Lam, chair professor of civil & transportation engineering and head of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University's (PolyU) Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, implementing smart mobility in Hong Kong involves a variety of challenges.
"There are many challenges for us in the area of smart transportation, such as the common data platform, data privacy issue, research and development (R&D) funding, etc," Ir Dr Lam said. "It seems that smart parking will go first, with electronic road pricing and then the autonomous car in the long run."
Indeed, the Development Bureau's Energizing Kowloon East Office (EKEO) has launched a trial smart parking app and invited car park operators to share their real-time data in order to improve utilisation of their car parks. As at the end of June this year, 19 car parks accounting for over 30% the hourly private car parking spaces in Kowloon East share their parking data through the app. Another 20 car parks are expected to do the same soon and once they are on board, the app will cover 65% of the hourly private car parking spaces in the district. However, the trial scheme has also revealed the challenges confronting plans to turn Hong Kong into a smart city: the rest of the car parks are old, with some still updating their parking information manually; and are therefore unlikely to be able to provide real-time information automatically.
Another initiative that has been undertaken in Kowloon East is the use of video pedestrian detection devices. The devices improve traffic flow by automatically activating the green light for pedestrians when they detect pedestrians in the waiting zone. Once the waiting zone is clear of pedestrians, the devices will cancel the green signal automatically, thus improving pedestrian and vehicular traffic flow. TD is testing the devices at several junctions in Kowloon East.
At this year's HKITC Awards, winners under the Best Fintech Award category offered a glimpse into what a smart economy would look like. The Grand Award was won by FWD Life Insurance Co (Bermuda) Ltd with a motor insurance product that calculates the premium based on actual driver behaviour. The company developed a driving technique assessment app which will evaluate a driver's behaviour on the road, from braking technique and speed to concentration. Safe drivers are not only charged a lower premium but also cash rebates up to 30% of the total premiums paid for the policy year, depending on their driving scores.
A Silver Award winner, Neat Ltd, secured cooperation with Mastercard International to offer an app-managed debit card which is attached to a mobile current account that can be opened and managed entirely online.
Some suggestions in the PwC report, such as "nurturing an organic and sustainable start-up ecosystem" and "expanding Hong Kong's R&D platform and capability" have already been taken up with the establishment of the Innovation & Technology Bureau and plans to develop a Hong Kong-Shenzhen Innovation and Technology Park in the Lok Ma Chau Loop. The revitalisation of manufacturing through the introduction of high value-added manufacturing is part of a long-term strategy; for now, first steps are being made at, for example, the PolyU, where a major 3D printing facility has been established.
We can now file our taxes and check traffic conditions online, but to have a smart government we would need smart governance, according to Ir Dr Bruce Chong, Arup's leader for sustainable infrastructure design in East Asia.
"A smart city group has been proposed across departments but the Government should convene a high-level meeting and ask each department to set up a smart city group and report back," Ir Dr Chong suggested.
Arup is responsible for EKEO's plan to turn Kowloon East into Hong Kong's first smart district. In addition to the traffic signal pilots mentioned above, other plans include smart bins and smart street lighting. According to Ir Dr Chong, the consultant will soon invite eight tenders for various smart initiatives in the district.
One item in the PwC report calls for "equipping the government with data analytics capability to support smart city implementation. Big data analytics has become an effective means to assist in city management. It is therefore quintessential for the Government to take early steps to build up its own capability on big data analytics with respect to technical infrastructure and expertise in developing big data analytics."
However, Ir Dr Chong noted: "In Hong Kong the data is locked up by service providers so you can't offer smart service. The Government has to be the platform."
As the launch of smart parking suggests, persuading service providers to share their data with the Government should not be difficult if it is mutually beneficial to do so. Of course, there may also be privacy issues to overcome.
As for the deployment of 5G to support innovative services and applications, Hong Kong Applied Science and Technology Research Institute Co Ltd (ASTRI) is working with EKEO to develop a scalable smart mobility project in Kowloon East designed to improve pedestrian flow by helping people reach their destinations more quickly and smoothly. ASTRI is also working on other 5G technologies, such as virtualised mobile network software and internet-of-things (IoT) technologies for smart homes.
Last October, ASTRI signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with 21Vianet Group Ltd (21Vianet), China's largest carrier-neutral internet data centre service provider, to conduct R&D and field trials in a 5G test bed ahead of the launch of a 5G network. The MoU covers the joint development of TD-LTE small cell service in commercial telecommunications network and technologies related to mobile edge computing, a technology designed to reduce network congestion by delivering applications and services from cellular base stations. The partners are conducting field trials up to March 2019 with 5G deployment expected to start around 2020.
Many of the suggestions made under this heading have already been taken up by the private sector. For example, "more options of digital payment" are being made available by start-ups like NEAT, mentioned earlier; and existing players from banks to Google and Apple.
The first efforts to enhance "the living and health environment for the community, through the use of gerontechnology, teleconsultation and remote health monitoring, to help the elderly live in the community and institutions comfortably, healthily and independently" were made in 2012, when the Housing Society, ASTRI and the PolyU collaborated on the establishment of an iHome, a hi-tech, 400 sq ft model home complete with a living room, bedroom, kitchen and bathroom that was installed with a network of sensors for health monitoring and automated domestic tasks so that a disabled person can, for example, switch on or off the TV or lights at the touch of a button without asking for help.
With an ageing population, healthcare has to be a key focus of a smart city. The consultancy report recommends "making our hospitals services smart through new hospitals and retrofitting old ones with smart features and services which are enabled by technology-driven solutions and products." Indeed, the Hospital Authority has been upgrading its clinical management system (CMS) and aims to implement version 4 of its CMS between 2017 and 2022. Multiple disciplines will be involved in delivering the technologies to be integrated into a healthcare system that will efficiently serve a densely populated city like Hong Kong.
Three of the recommendations under the 'Smart environment' heading are already being followed to varying extents.
According to Ir Dr Eddy Lau, head of green labelling at the Hong Kong Green Building Council (HKGBC), developers with projects in Kowloon East are already required to achieve BEAM Plus Gold rating as a land sales condition. The Urban Renewal Authority is also said to be receptive to the idea of developing smart buildings.
In terms of smart grids, CLP Power Hong Kong Ltd has been conducting a smart metering pilot involving 26,000 households designed to help the company finetune its implementation of advanced metering infrastructure in the future. Under the scheme, customers are encouraged to reduce their peak period consumption through tariff concessions for energy use during off-peak periods. According to CLP Power deputy director - smart grid, Ir Dr Anthony Lo, the company's Smart Energy Programme draws on best practices from global trends.
The call for improved waste management is being answered by the establishment of the facility to treat waste electronics and electrical products while the Government's waste charging scheme is due to take effect in the second half of 2019.
All the hardware and software in the world cannot make a city smart unless its people are ready to embrace the concept. In this regard, PwC's report recommends "enhancing Hong Kong's capability in data science through the school curricula and other education and training programmes" and "fostering entrepreneurial and innovative appetite and exporting best practices to promote and support technical skills and creative thinking through education", among other things. The consultant also recommends training the general public, through seminars, etc; to adopt smart city practices and using social media and online tools to help tailor smart city initiatives to the public's needs.
Ir Lau believes the key is the support of decision-makers.
'More important would be the decision makers at the government and developer levels. I have been working with CLP and the Urban Renewal Authority in some of their initiatives, and I find that senior management at these two organisations are very supportive of smart city ideas. That is why you will see that they are launching/will launch new initiatives related to smart city in their projects. These kinds of initiatives need to be spearheaded by a few industry leaders before they can be widespread," he said.
Diverse engineering disciplines will be involved in the transformation of Hong Kong into a smart city. "There are many challenges for us in the area of smart transportation�. Of course, there is a need for us to update our curriculum for providing enough logistics and transportation professionals for smart mobility," said Ir Dr Lam.
The same is probably true of other disciplines and, with the right adjustments to curricula, the city will have the people to implement as well as utilise the initiatives that will turn Hong Kong into a truly smart city. The Government is certainly doing what it can to facilitate the transition: anticipating the launch of 5G services by telecommunication providers, the Communications Authority has announced plans to open up new spectrum, specifically 4.1 GHz of millimetre wave spectrum in the 26 GHz and 28 GHz bands, in 2019. In 2020, it plans to release new spectrum in the 3.4 GHz to 3.7 GHz bands.
The full PwC report is available at https://www.smartcity.gov.hk/report/full.
A trial smart parking scheme has been launched in east Kowloon. Images: EKEO
A smart city engagement exercise.
A map of Kowloon East showing the buildings with BEAM Plus ratings.