How Taiwan exports its smart city services

May 14, 2019 16:32
Taiwan has used smart city solutions to improve the quality of life on the island. Photo: AFP

Smart city developments offer huge business opportunities. By 2022, according to research institute IDC, the Asia-Pacific region will be the main driving area in the development of smart cities, with spending reaching above US$60 billion, or more than 40 percent of the world's expenditure.

At the end of March, I was invited by the Asian Productivity Organization (APO) to be a trainer in a smart city workshop in Seoul. I saw much enthusiasm for smart city development from many Asian countries such as Cambodia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Many cities also have considerable experiences to share about the subject. Kaohsiung in Taiwan, for example, was able to harness information technology to transform itself from a heavily polluted industrial city.

Kaohsiung was originally dominated by manufacturing and petrochemical industries, and as a result, its environmental condition had been deteriorating.

To solve its serious air pollution, the city installed a number of air quality monitors to closely monitor the air quality and coordinated with IT.  

People were encouraged to take public transport and various other measures were taken to improve the air quality. As a result, the days in winter when PM2.5 level reaches "code red" have been gradually reduced.

Kaohsiung is proud of its Cloud Cadastral Action Network, which is the result of cooperation among the government, academia, industry and the public. The platform integrates information from GPS, geographic information system (GIS) and various government departments to improve administrative efficiency.

For example, after a natural disaster, government officers need to evaluate the damage to agriculture. In the past, the Council of Agriculture, along with the Department of Land, took a lot of time to assess and measure the devastated area, and as a result, assistance could not be released speedily to alleviate the people's suffering. 

But with the platform, the Council of Agriculture is able to immediately collate accurate positioning data for measurement using only a tablet computer.

The platform also facilitates people’s handling of various applications, reducing the number of round-trips by more than 20,000 per year, and shortening the number of days spent in using the applications by 30,000.

A survey showed that 44 percent of the general public feel that it is more convenient than before, while the government saved NT$54 million (US$1.73 million) in human capital cost. The entire case demonstrated the benefits of IT applications, paving the way for its export to other places.

The commissioner of the Industrial Development Bureau, under the Ministry of Economic Affairs, has set a three-year project (2018-2020) with the ultimate goal of exporting smart city solutions.

The project highlights three of the best applications from Taiwan:

1. Smart lamp posts – 1,800 lamp posts were installed in Taoyuan, Taipei, saving 1.4 million kilowatts of electricity annually and facilitating the city's management;

2. Smart parking – a mobile application combining parking vacancy, parking space location and electronic payment has been deployed in eight cities; and

3. Disaster prevention and control – wearable devices and wireless instruments are used to monitor real-time water level, analyze tidal data, and send warning signals and safety instructions to the public when necessary.

While these services make life convenient for the general public, the experiences gained in the process of their deployment, such as how to deal with the public concerns over privacy, how to convince the public about the benefits of the expensive projects, and how to narrow the urban-rural gap, also help in promoting smart city solutions in other places.

Hong Kong, too, has accumulated much experience in smart city development, which is the envy of many Southeast Asian countries. Let's talk about this next time.

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Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering; Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong