Innovation and Disruptive Technology Keys to Smart Cities of the Future


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Cutting-edge technology solutions are changing the way we live like never before, as we prepare for a futuristic new era of smart cities. The radical shift in the urban fabric, integrating data, communications and sensors to boost the efficiency of civic operations and services was the focus of a seminar themed 'Disruptive Technology Enabling Smart City' at the 15th edition of the HKTDC International ICT Expo at the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre (HKCEC).

Smart City Blueprint for Hong Kong Unveiled

Exploring the technology side of this year's expo theme "Smart City: The Way of the Future", the seminar organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) was moderated by Professor K.F. Wong, Associate Dean (External Affairs), Faculty of Engineering, The Chinese University of Hong Kong. 

He introduced the session praising Hong Kong's own vision for a 'Smart City'. The blueprint unveiled "embraces innovative technology for a smart Hong Kong under six key areas," he said, which included mobility, living, environment, people, government and the economy.

The blueprint promises to "improve quality of life by changing ways of living", he said, while disruptive technologies, the theme of the seminar, will play a key role in making the vision a reality, bringing "better ways to live in this world".

Building Smart Cities with Data Technology

Patrick Chan, solutions architect, Alibaba Cloud Hong Kong & Macau, explained how Alibaba's cloud-computing ecosystem, developed originally for the e-retail giant's businesses including the online payment platform Alipay, is now being commercialised for government and enterprise applications through what it brands 'ET City Brain'.

"Data embraces all of society," he said. "The question is how smart cities can use it?" The answer is "in a multitude of ways" - from security and the environment to health systems and medical record management.

One of the most immediate and visible benefits is traffic management alleviating traffic jams and snarl-ups in Hangzhou, the first Chinese city to embrace Alibaba's 'ET City Brain Solution'. With 8,000 traffic lights, 2,300 junctions, 11,000 taxis and 5,000 buses, Hangzhou, which also happens to be Alibaba's home, was enduring chaotic traffic when it launched Alibaba's first smart city initiative in 2016 "to make life easier and more convenient for citizens".

Through "intelligent deployment of all available real-time traffic data", including GPS and sensors revealing traffic status, traffic light control is now adjusted to optimise efficiency. As a result, Alibaba's cloud computing ecosystem has "made every junction smarter" and "improved daily transportation for everyone" - with overall traffic movement accelerated by 11%.

The 'ET City Brain Solution' is now on the drawing-board for Suzhou, Quzhou, Macau and even further afield in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur; with improved service applications extending from transport and public services to real estate, finance, health, e-commerce and entertainment - and even improving ways smart cities can adapt their systems to changing weather.

"Ultimately, through merging advanced technology and data, we are helping cities to build better services, control and organisation," said Chan. Alibaba is also keen to help make Hong Kong a smarter city.

Cybersecurity Alongside Smart City Development

"Smart cities will bring great benefits making life easier, but before we are all connected we must think about security," cautioned Garrick Ng, chief technology officer, Cisco Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

As the leader of Cisco's engineering strategy and operations for enterprise, commercial and service provider systems, Ng noted that by 2020, there will be an estimated 30 billion 'things' connected through the internet worldwide - equivalent to four times the world's population. "This opens the door for hackers, and makes it very easy for them to get in," he warned.

While cities are getting smarter, so are the hackers, he said: "It's a whole new world for us, but it's also a whole new world for the hackers. Hacking chaos used to happen in the movies. Now hacking is a huge industry - they are making a lot of money."

As an example, he cited the recent 'ransomware' infecting smart TVs, when hackers brazenly telephoned users promising to unlock the block for HK$500. Victims could, of course, take their smart TVs to the manufacturer for cleaning, but they would be charged about the same amount - "with a lot more hassle". "Either way you had to pay," he said.

In other frightening cases, he recalled a "huge attack" that brought down a large part of the United States internet for a day. It subsequently transpired that 100,000 internet devices were hijacked from the unknowing public to mount the attack. In Ukraine in 2015, 225,000 residents lost power supply for up to six hours during the freezing winter, as a result of 30 power sub-stations being disconnected by hackers. 

WannaCry ransomware claimed 300,000 victims in 150 countries, among them motoring giants like Honda, Nissan and Renault, global logistics leaders FedEx, TNT and Maersk - were effectively shut down for a day at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Hacking is simple, he said, because so few people regularly update the 'patches' and passwords on their computers and devices, it's like leaving their houses unlocked for burglars to hijack their systems for nefarious attacks.

On the plus side, there is no turning back on smart cities, with advantages far outweighing the risks: "You can even turn up street lighting in a high crime rate area and crime drops!"

"The world is going to be a very different place in the future," he said. "But we don't only need connectivity for smart cities. We need secure connectivity."

Building a Next-generation Data-inspired Enterprise

Finally, Michael Siu, senior solutions architect, Greater China, Dun & Bradstreet, updated the seminar on the "not so scary" scenario of how his company effectively manages next generation data for enterprises.

Smart cities and enterprises depend on data, he said, and Dun & Bradstreet has been providing databases since long before the online age, since being founded in 1841 - "nearly two centuries of unlocking the truth through data".

The New York-listed data manager today boats a database of 290 million business records, and 30,000 data sources - which makes it in demand from 90% of Forbes 500 companies.

"We also play a vital part in maintaining Hong Kong's role as Asia's leading banking and financial centre," he said. "Data management is crucial."

Smart City Seminar Series at HKTDC International ICT Expo -- Organised by the HKTDC, the Hong Kong Electronics Fair (Spring Edition) and the International ICT Expo continues through to 16 April at the HKCEC, featuring more than 3,500 exhibitors from 25 countries and regions. The two fairs showcase the latest electronics, cutting-edge technology and ICT solutions from around the world. The Smart City Seminar Series features industry experts exploring such topics as Internet security, Fintech, developing smart business through IoT applications, how disruptive technology is driving smart city development, smart mobility and logistics, smart home trends and electronic ID. Event details, click here.

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