Innovation Is Everywhere

Innovation Is Everywhere

June 21, 2018

Singapore usually tops the rankings when it comes to implementing smart city technologies. Seoul, Tokyo and a few growing cities in China (Wuxi, Hangzhou, Yinchuan) have also been noticed for their numerous experiments with Internet of Things technologies, artificial intelligence and robotics to improve the experience of their citizens.  According to International Data Corporation (IDC), […]

Singapore usually tops the rankings when it comes to implementing smart city technologies. Seoul, Tokyo and a few growing cities in China (Wuxi, Hangzhou, Yinchuan) have also been noticed for their numerous experiments with Internet of Things technologies, artificial intelligence and robotics to improve the experience of their citizens.  According to International Data Corporation (IDC), global spending on smart cities is forecasted to reach $80 billion in 2018, with China itself accounting for more than 25% of that amount.

At Innovation Is Everywhere, we monitor smart cities trends and initiatives in Asia, and organize learning expeditions for corporate executives.

Here is an overview of the 6 smartest cities in the region and what companies in sectors such as energy, mobility, healthcare or infrastructure can learn from them.

1. Singapore


Smart mobility

Singapore has applied smart, connected traffic solutions, in conjunction with very strong policy curtailing car ownership in an effort to reduce the number of vehicles on its roads. This vision makes Singapore the perfect place to experiment with smart alternatives to cars based on the sharing economy. Singapore was one of the first places to have stationless shared bicycles (Obike, Ofo, Mobike) and the second biggest electric vehicle car-sharing programme after Paris (BlueSG).

The next step will be on-demand driverless taxis with NuTonomy, a spin-off from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology. The project started in July 2015, a first public pilot has been conducted in 2016 and a full drive in 2017.  NuTonomy’s team works closely with the government to turn the vision into reality. They hope to operate the first autonomous vehicles in five years. New towns in Singapore will be designed with autonomous vehicles in mind. For example, there could be more green areas to replace unnecessary car parks.


Smart infrastructure

Virtual Singapore is an ambitious project that will be completed in 2018. It allows scientists and urban planners to conduct experiments and run simulations through a data-rich, 3D model of Singapore at the touch of a button. When looking at a representation of a building, the computer knows what kind of building it is, and what kind of roof, walls, doors and windows it has. Therefore, you could find all the roof surfaces for buildings of a certain height and calculate how much energy you could expect to generate by installing solar panels on the building, for example.

Meeting with National Research Foundation and Dassault Systems during a learning expedition in Singapore for our clients, to showcase Virtual Singapore “3DEXPERIENCity”.


Elderly inclusion

Singapore focus on addressing healthcare service provision for elderly citizens through a range of technologies, including digital service platforms as well as remote monitoring devices.  Among other initiatives, Singapore’s think tank ACCESS Health International and NUS Enterprise co-created the startup competition and incubator Modern Ageing Singapore in 2015. Every year, winners receive a grant to develop their idea within the next 3 years. The winners were showcasing their innovations at Innovfest unbound.



Singapore is considered one of the safest places in the world. It ranks second in the Safe Cities Index 2017 after Tokyo. Since 2012, over 52,000 police surveillance cameras have been installed in the city.

Convenient public services

The Singapore Government has also accelerated the delivery of key strategic national projects, including the National Digital Identity portal SingPass, the adoption of PayNow which makes e-payments more integrated and interoperable, and the Moments of Life application which aims to address citizens’ pain points when transacting with the Government.

2. Seoul, South Korea


Energy consumption

Seoul is the typical example of smart city taking climate change mitigation significantly.

According to the last Deloitte City Mobility Index 2018 (June 11, 2018), Seoul is the leader in innovative environmental sustainability initiatives in the Asia-Oceania area.

Deloitte City Mobility Index 2018

Yonsei University Health System is a climate smart hospital in Seoul. The hospital invested in a water recycling system in order to face the water cost and use issues. The hospital is also fully lighted using LED, uses energy-efficient motor equipment, and saves energy by using raw energy glasses.

Concerning the transportation, the Korean city aims to electrify all the buses in order to run with zero emissions by 2030. The number of fast-charging stations for electric cars will increase to 10,000 by 2022 and mail delivery will also be electrified.

Electric cars for mail delivery

On a smaller scale, the Villagers of Sipjaseong, in southeastern Seoul, have succeeded to meet their own energy needs. They found several solutions so that 46% of the electricity comes from renewable energy. Building rooftops are equipped with solar panels, houses retain heat through a sealing system of windows and electricity consumption is reduced by using light-emitting diode lights.


Smart mobility

Buses, cars and trains move efficiently as real-time information is gathered continuously. For instance, there are sensors embedded in roads and GPS trackers in taxis. This information helps the staff to update roadside signboards. Seoul smart card count the commuters taking the subway.

The Seoul Metropolitain Government and the Road Traffic Authority are cooperating to help ‘smombies’ avoid traffic accidents. Smombie refers to people using their smartphones while walking. Although car accidents on the road decreased over the past years, pedestrians accidents remain unchanged. The first traffic lights were installed this month and they are linked to the ground signals.

© Android Community

Smart infrastructure

Seoul metro is using IoT technology to fix escalators and to prevent any technical issues in advance. The escalators are equipped with sensors that can alert authorities in real time when it has a disfunction. Repairers are then dispatched instantly. The repair time is shortened by half. The transport company plans to add safety devices to prevent escalators from going into reverse and, thus, reduce the number of accidents.


Convenient public services

Korea ranked first in the UN E-Government Survey for three consecutive terms. Most of the public services are delivered online now.  

Other technologies, such as artificial intelligence, have also been used by the government to make the life of its citizens easier.  Seoul Incheon Airport (ICN) opened its new Terminal 2 in January 2018. In this high-tech terminal, passengers can check-in themselves on machines, they can drop their luggages themselves. If passengers need to find their ways, a robot will help them and it can even lead them to their gates.

3. Tokyo, Japan


Energy consumption

Tokyo was the first city in the region to adopt green initiatives in 2002, including a set of rules for the buildings.  It introduced the world’s first urban cap-and-trade program for large facilities in 2010. Caps set emission limits, while trade allows companies to sell and purchase environmental credits. This approach reduced greenhouse gas emission by 20% by 2016.

As Tokyo will host the 2020 Olympics, the metropolitan government wants to promote Tokyo as an eco-friendly city. They are introducing the new technologies of “solar roads” that collect energy from the sun via solar panels installed beneath the surface of roads and “power-generating floors” that generate electricity by utilising the vibrations created by people walking. The first solar road was installed in May this year.  

Smart mobility

The main mode of transportation in Tokyo is public transport, their rail system to be exact.

The organizers of the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 have decided to introduce an online system that will allow athletes and officials to avoid traffic jams. Their vehicles will be connected to the Internet and these data will be managed integrally with separate sets of information on traffic jams and accidents owned by police and road administrators, allowing the system to give drivers instructions on optimal routes. The organizers are hoping, once the Games are over, to convert the technology into a system for ensuring efficient mobility of emergency vehicles at times of disasters.

Japan is also planning to bring autonomous vehicles on its roads.  The government plans to begin testing an autonomous car system on public roads this year with the goal of launching a self-driving car service for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Nissan Motor is already currently testing Easy Ride, a service that will allow users to book semi-autonomous driven rides using an app.  

Smart infrastructure

The Yamanote Line, a loop line around central Tokyo, which is also the world’s largest transport infrastructure used by 34 million passengers a week, is supported by IoT and sensors technology to collect and analyze data from trains and rails in real time, making it possible to detect minor changes and to predict failures well in advance.

Elderly inclusion

Japan has been one of the most innovative countries when it comes to using artificial intelligence and robotics for its rapidly greying population. The state estimates the number of patients with dementia to grow to 7 million in 2025 and expects a shortage of caregivers.

Senior care facilities are testing out robots that deliver social and physical health care.  A nationwide survey found that 80% of respondents over 40 welcomed or were open to being helped by a care robot. Research showed that with robot care, seniors’ autonomy, sociability, mood and communication improved along with a better quality of life over all.  The technology is backed by the Government since 2013.

The game developer DeNA has been testing autonomous shuttles in September 2017 in a rural area near Tokyo to help seniors get around.

Tama, a city located in suburban Tokyo with a ratio of 29.4% of persons over 65, began employing a tracking system to help families and nursing facilities locate people suffering from dementia when they lose their way or go missing. The persons suffering from dementia must carry a gadget dubbed “Mimamori Tag”. Through Bluetooth technology, the residents of the community who have downloaded an app developed by ALSOK can send anonymously the positioning data of persons with dementia they would spot in the street.  Tama will receive government subsidies until 2019 to use the system.

DeNA’s Robot Shuttle and how it works. Image Credit: DeNA


Tokyo is the safest city worldwide according to the Economist’s latest report on city safety, Safe Cities Index 2017. The government has done a good job protecting infrastructure for the upcoming Olympics and Paralympics. They also have focused on digital security and health security and are ranking near the top in those two categories.


4. Wuxi, China


Energy consumption

Wuxi’s New District is China’s center for IoT and sensor technology.  Wuxi is home to more than 2,000 IoT firms and 150,000 employees in the field.  Wuxi has formed a complete industry chain, ranging from sensors and network communications to processing applications and fundamental research.  

In parallel, Wuxi city government developed a Low Carbon City Plan in 2010.  A few companies established in the city are therefore working on improving energy efficiency through IoT.

For example, Samsung’s Wuxi factory has worked with the Wuxi-based technology company Lanswon to construct an energy station capable of monitoring the use of energy in real-time and compare the data with usage history. Related staff can analyze the cost of energy and regulate consumption to reduce emissions. Lanswon has several other projects in Wuxi.  

Smart Mobility

The city’s status as leader in IoT has made it the ideal place to test pilots in the smart mobility sector.  

Wuxi is experimenting with an open industry platform for smart traffic management on some of its major highways, with partners such as car manufacturer Audi and electronics company Huawei.  The technology called vehicle to everything (V2X) hooks up the city’s traffic light network to cars to help ease traffic flow, allowing the lights to adjust accordingly to the greatest number of cars wishing to travel in a particular direction.


The city also became a pioneer for the application of electronic vehicle identification in 2014, which is now deployed in the whole country. Vehicle information, like license numbers, are stored on  RFID tags attached to windshields. People can check their locations in real-tile through a smart phone app.  Compliance will be voluntary this year but will be made mandatory for new vehicles at the start of 2019. Authorities have described the plan as a means to improve public security and to help ease worsening traffic congestion.  

The city has also been the first city to experiment DiDi’s new on-demand food delivery service in April this year.


Tencent established its IoT Lab in Wuxi’s New District last September. The Chinese giant is working with Intel to develop a secure blockchain system for the IoT to help guarantee personal privacy security and guard smart city development.

Convenient public services

One hospital in Wuxi was approved as a demonstration hospital to launch the national electronic health card project in September 2017, before its official launch in December 2017.  Citizens can apply for a private QR Code in App or WeChat and use it to register, receive treatment, pay and get medicine in any hospital nationwide.  The national electronic health card can also automatically collect and save the patient’s medical and image data to form a personal electronic health file.

5. Yinchuan, China


Energy consumption

Yinchuan has firmly endorsed the use of renewable energy sources. The city implemented solar panels across the fields for the cultivation. The entire city is equipped with public trash bins that run on solar power and double as compactors, as they can increase their capacity five-fold. An additional feature is that the bins transmit a signal to the garbage collectors when they are full, which allows a better management in garbage collection.

Smart trash bins in Yinchuan

Smart mobility

As part of the services provided by this smart city, RFID responders are distributed to the residents in order to manage the traffic efficiently. More than half of the private vehicles are equipped with this sensor and can be tracked accordingly.  

Besides, the first driverless monorail line was implemented in Yinchuan. This rail transit alternative runs on a single track and offers several benefits: low capital cost, short construction time, low noise, cost-effective.


BYD and Huawei’s driverless monorail


Yinchuan is a city where facial recognition is mostly used. Facial recognition security at the gate means keyless entry to your condominium. In the local buses, facial recognition software has also replaced the fare box since it is linked to the bank account.

Convenient public services

Yinchuan is a pioneer in public IT to provides great services and succeeded to centralize all the services at one single location.  At the City Hall, holograms welcome people and they can scan QR codes with their smartphone to get quick answers to frequently asked questions so that they avoid waiting in line. A single hotline number – 12345 –  replaced 55 different government and emergency hotlines, and has increased efficiency while cutting manpower needs.
Cold storage lockers are also implemented across the city. Residents can order food on their smartphone and pick up their groceries anywhere, anytime.


6. Hangzhou, China

Energy consumption

The Times reports that Zhejiang, in the east of the country, is planning to construct the 100-mile electric motorway between its capital of Hangzhou and the port city of Ningbo.
This motorway will allow drivers to recharge their electric car while driving and to pay tolls without stopping.  

Huangzhou’s future electric motorway

Smart Mobility

Hangzhou hosts the headquarters of the Chinese giant Alibaba, which makes the city a test-bed for many of Alibaba’s IoT innovations. The government of Hangzhou built the ‘City Brain’ project in collaboration with Alibaba and Foxconn. It makes live traffic predictions, optimizes traffic flow, and detects traffic incidents using data from video footage, traffic bureaus, public transportation systems, and mapping apps.

Hangzhou city runs the world’s largest bike-sharing system, Hangzhou Public Bicycle. More than 85,800 bikes are in service in the city. The instructions are in English and Mandarin, enabling foreigners to use them. And to support this, the city has barricaded lanes running across the city, and special lanes for mobility bikes used by senior citizens.

The city also plans to open an autonomous test driving road.  


City Brain, controlling the city through artificial intelligence (AI), has helped the authorities to detect 500 traffic violations daily in the downtown area. Traffic congestion, road accidents, and crime have declined drastically, as police officers can now intervene within a few minutes.


Convenient public services

Hangzhou residents can complete 13 services with the Hangzhou Resident Card. All their information is on the card, including the health details. Hangzhou is also fully-equipped with mobile internet-enabled social services, as more than 95% of supermarkets and convenience stores accept Alipay, a mobile payment platform.




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