Turning Taipei into a smart city

  • August 13, 2020
  • Steve Rogerson

IMC executive editor Steve Rogerson looks at some of the companies developing smart city technologies in Taiwan.

You cannot have a smart city without smart transportation. That simple fact is becoming apparent worldwide and especially in Asian countries where city congestion has become almost the norm.
 I recall many examples of frustration stuck in traffic jams in Manila or falling down holes in Jakarta; that really did happen to me. That said, one city I have always enjoyed visiting is Taipei and one of the big plusses for tourists is the excellent public transport that means its often congested road networks can be avoided.

The Covid-19 lockdown means it is unlikely I will be visiting the country this year, but Taiwan has decided to come to me. After attending a successful online automotive technology pavilion a few weeks ago, I decided to sign up to its online smart transportation conference organised by Taitra, the country’s external trade development council.

Here a number of Taiwanese companies in the smart transportation field addressed the problems that the region was facing and how they could be overcome.

Maggie Chao from the Industrial Development Bureau’s smart city project office explained how the country had moved its smart city planning from being technology driven until 2008 to being led by city needs and now, and for the past two years, to being focussed on public-private partnerships that can deliver real services.

This has already seen benefits in Taipei such as a reduction of 40% in the time it takes to find a parking space. More impressive was that coding was now being taught in 400 schools in the country to prepare the next generation to tackle the technology challenges ahead.

One very solid example of what the city has been doing is the Taipei Bus Station that acts as a hub for 2500 bus trips per day accounting for nearly 30,000 daily passenger journeys. And the building also contains hotels, homes, shopping, cinemas, gyms and parking. But the important thing is that the simple task of catching a bus has been made so much easier.

“Once you had to wait in a very long line to buy one paper ticket,” said Ya-Wen Chen, CEO of the Advanced Public Transportation Research Center. “We use our cell phones every day and there are many different apps. It can be very confusing and inconvenient for the passengers. So we looked for a more integrated way.”

Now, the apps from seven bus operators have been combined into one with three kinds of electronic payment. And it also includes ferries and tourist buses, and passengers can choose their own seats through the app. Already, 100,000 people are using the app and more than 500 tickets per day are sold through it.

Going hand in hand with a smart bus station are smart bus stops, and this is where local company Askey can help. It is installing throughout the city everything from LCDs showing bus arrival times in English and Chinese (1600 have been added in the past year) to solar-powered bus stops providing a wealth of information. These stops link to telematics units on the buses themselves using a combination of 3G, 4G and wifi communications.

“Smart transportation is a primary task for smart cities,” said Samuel Chou, supervisory specialist as Askey.

For those that prefer a more open way of travelling round Taipei, there is Be Bike, a dockless electric smart bike-sharing scheme from Big Bear Bike. This has been running since 2015 and has 1600 bikes operating from 77 stations in the city. These combine Bluetooth, GPS, LTE-M and NB-IoT technologies.

“Using Bluetooth let us set up the 77 stations within two months,” said Emilie Yeh, sales manager for Big Bear Bike. “The technology is all ours.”

All the traffic though needs careful management for any smart city project, something that is getting more crucial as increasing numbers of people take to city life.

“We are becoming increasingly urbanised,” said Janet Ho from intelligent traffic management system company AValue. “The whole of Asia is struggling with traffic problems.”

The company is focusing on using artificial intelligence and IoT technologies to manage traffic problems, such as adjusting traffic signals in real time in response to traffic patterns. A three-month trial using 25 intersections in one area of the city has already seen a significant reduction in congestion during peak hours. But Ho realises that for the future 5G is a must.

“We believe it is important to integrate with 5G to reduce latency with these systems,” she said.

Security, of course, is also a big factor in any smart city project and Taiwanese embedded board company Aaeon, since 2011 part of the Asus laptop and tablet giant, is working with big name partners to achieve this for its smart lighting projects. These include Amazon Web Services (AWS), Arm, Intel and Microsoft.

“Integrity and stability are very important for smart city projects,” said Jeffrey Chuang from Aaeon’s IoT division. “We have to ensure the security of our smart city systems to make sure they cannot be compromised. Taipei wants to manage all the streetlights from one place and integrate video feeds for intersections, plus smart surveillance and people counting.”

The company’s smart streetlight poles also provide information for tourists visiting the city. Hopefully, before long, I will again be one of those tourists and I can experience some of these smart city developments myself.