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July 30, 2015

Q&A: UK vanguards IDA’s Smart Nation revolution

C-level briefing: Steve Leonard, Executive Deputy Chairman at IDA, discusses how the UK’s IoT industry is getting a real boost from Singapore, which is “planting seeds” to connect the country.

By Joao Lima

Ahead of PM David Cameron’s Asian tour, CBR’s Joao Lima sat with Steve Leonard, Executive Deputy Chairman at the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA), the tech arm of the city-nation’s government.

The IDA has been tasked by Lee Hsien Loong, PM of Singapore, to create a Smart Nation and 2015 is being treated as a prototyping year, "because we are believers in IoT".

"But there are two things to consider: we have to think about security and we have to think about anonymity and privacy."

Leonard, who is the main tech man in Singapore nowadays, explained that one of the reasons IDA likes to work with the UK government is because Britain has prioritised research and investment in technology, and "we are trying to do the same".

"The UK and Singapore have the same interests, and therefore a standard could come out from that."

On his trip to the UK, the exec has also spent time with the UK Trade and Investment (UK TI) body and advisors at Number 10 in preparation for the PM’s visit to Singapore in August.

Once Mr Cameron’s expedition reaches Singapore, it will enter what IDA has been working on: a Smart Nation.

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UK Universities

The Smart Nation project seeks to find solutions to transform healthcare, transportation systems and other sectors. "It is an IoT type environment, which is gathering a lot of data and understanding the context is really important to us."

The aforementioned smart project is one of the reasons behind Leonard’s interest in British universities, companies and start-ups.

He revealed that IDA keeps in constant touch with universities like Cambridge and the UCL, as well as the Imperial College.

"Cambridge and other universities in Singapore cooperate or have research collaborations. It is just as important to a professor in terms of [IoT] research at Cambridge for example, as it is to us."

As for the Imperial College, because of its medical background, the institution works with Singapore around the healthcare of the future and ways to help with an aging population.

"We will make investments where we see great opportunities. We have already invested in the London-based Startupbootcamp FinTech Accelerator [IDA’s first European investment]."

‘Everybody goes to Silicon Valley’

Protecting these investments and the Asian market, Leonard said that there is a whole different demographic available through Singapore. "In Silicon Valley a company would have access to many things, but they would have somewhat of a concentration in North America."

The fact is that half of the world’s population is within six hours flight from Singapore, offering companies different market opportunities, according to the exec.

"Everybody goes to Silicon Valley, but there are also great things in Singapore and in London. What we are saying to our start-ups that might be from around Asia is that they can get access to Europe through London. We are trying to have that sort of reciprocal type of relationship."

IoT Endeavours

As this relationship grows, the need for common standards in the IoT sector starts to show and has an impact in the way deployments are done.

"As a government, we remain independent [about joining IoT alliances or consortiums]. [At the same time] We are trying to make sure we focus on a few things: standards that are international in nature and as we have a lot of prototyping under way right now in Singapore, we are deploying IoT infrastructure in a few test locations."

Leonard made clear that one of the reasons why IDA can introduce some standards in Singapore, such as an IoT infrastructure that allows a future home to potentially transmit real time health data and save lives, is because 80% of Singaporeans live in government built homes.

The nation has been working on projects for the smart home, including a smart wallpaper which contains a flexible printed circuit.

"If someone fell in their home, that person could call for help just by saying "I need help", and the intelligence of the system would say that this an emergency signal [and call for help]."

Leonard also explained that the circuit could also gather temperature and ambient movement data, and by learning the homeowner’s routine, it would know something could have happened to that person and action the needed emergency protocols.

UK businesses will also benefit from these developments, as universities, start-ups and companies are a crucial part of Singapore’s long run Smart Nation endeavour.

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