November 2019

Creating a digital blueprint of the planet

We might not live in a complete world of smart cities and autonomous vehicles yet, but with the speed at which we’re going and the digital advancements we’re seeing, there are definitely indications that we’re heading into that direction very soon.
Last week, our Founder and Chief Technology Officer Dr. Steve Marsh spoke at the Singapore Week of Innovation and Technology (SWITCH), Singapore’s leading deep tech event of the year and part of Singapore FinTech Festival. He shared how the world is now in a unique place to create a digital blueprint of the planet to address challenges of urbanisation and improve everything from congestion to pollution.  

We are seeing rising population levels across the globe, which is leading to increased demand on our own physical infrastructure. When talking about building digital blueprints, it’s about making sense of the data that’s being generated. Thanks to connected vehicles, we are now able to pull out traffic conditions of every city on the planet, pinpoint high or low air quality levels and understand urban environments that require our attention.

But connected devices create new challenges that we have yet to overcome. These devices are predicted to send out 77.5 exabytes of data per month worldwide by 2022, and this number comes just from mobile data traffic alone1. That is more data than we have produced in the history of humankind, and this figure is only going to get bigger, faster, and we're going to ask for an ever increasing amount despite being hindered by current database technology that simply wasn't designed for the future data scale. 

Traditional big data systems can take weeks to process insights, and by the time a conclusion has been derived, that physical scenario has moved on, never to repeat itself. Real-time actionable data is critical in today’s fast-paced environment. Take the example of urban congestion in Singapore. The Singapore Land Transport Authority has been pioneering efforts with big data and advanced analytics to tackle growing urban issues such as congestion and crowd monitoring in a mass rapid transit (MRT) network. This is a perfect example of why we need real-time insights as well as historical data to understand the context so relevant agencies can intervene and optimise those physical world outcomes.

Besides congestion, we have pollution issues to resolve. Singapore is strategically located at the convergence of key shipping routes around the world. However, as the global maritime transhipment hub, ships contribute extensively to pollution in the environment. Poor air quality due to international shipping accounts for approximately 400,000 premature deaths per year worldwide2. While efforts are being made by the maritime industry to ensure cleaner fuel sources, what we really need to do is measure the data that has been produced from mobile sensors as well as its impact on the environment. Leveraging geospatial technology enables us to draw out a global map of all of the congestion made by the maritime industry, allowing for control and proper planning by governments around the world. 

There’s a lot of talk on global issues, especially ones concerning climate change. Being able to build these digital blueprints, from a variety of data sources, enables us to measure our impact on this planet. This is the first step towards optimising physical environments and solving planet-scale problems across industries relating to automotive, maritime, and urban planning. With the advent of geospatial technology, 5G connectivity and IoT sensors across city infrastructures, businesses and governments are able to understand how citizens utilise city infrastructures and how to optimise urban environments to solve climate issues of today.


1  https://www.statista.com/statistics/271405/global-mobile-data-traffic-forecast/ 

2  https://www.transportenvironment.org/what-we-do/shipping-and-environment/shipping’s-impact-air-quality  

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