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Amid global 'smart city' craze, Taipei will make street lights and ID cards more useful

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Growing world interest in connected technologies to improve city services has taken officials in Taipei to a transformation that they can't ignore.

Major cities elsewhere are already changing, part of a global trend called "smart cites." The U.S. White House, for example, announced plans to invest over $160 million into a "Smart Cities" Initiative in September 2015 to improve public services at the local level.

Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je says the capital of Taiwan has made smart city projects a high priority for his term that began in 2014, according to previous news reports. The city government got started with a Smart City Commission in July 2015 and the Taipei City Smart City Project Management Office in March 2016.

The Project Management Office fosters communication between the government and the private sector. Its staff also taps into what citizens need in order to set standards, find private firms and do trials.

Taipei picked street lighting

Taipei's effort isn't just about a new layer of bureaucracy. City officials plan to improve the city by connecting street lights to create energy savings through LED bulbs.

The lights connected by internet can relay data back to city hall for use in other services that some of the capital's 2.6 million people find convenient.

The project management office picked Taipei-based LED lighting manufacturer Lite-On Technology Corp. to help, and they announced a partnership January 31. As part of their deal, Lite-On will create the first "Smart IoT Shared-Pole Street Light" demonstration area in Taiwan.

Leotek, a business unit of the Lite-On Smart Life and Application Business Group, is installing street lights that are equipped with multiple sensors to monitor air quality, traffic flows, localized weather conditions and nearby parking spaces.

The Leotek street lighting management system starts at connected devices and sensors installed on lamp posts throughout the city. Sensors and mobile communication base stations collect real-time data at those points. The city government will thus be able to monitor and control each street light remotely, while reducing maintenance and operations costs.

Sensors and other hardware in this connected street lighting network will facilitate other city services, including air quality monitoring, traffic management and parking. The city calls this effort its "Smart IoT Shared-Pole Street Light" initiative.

The goal is to collect and analyze public data to raise efficiency in the longer term. One peer might be in the U.S. city Chicago. Data collected by Chicago's sensors can help forecast floods and traffic accidents, allowing the city government to save money. Localized weather data could help Chicago learn enough about weather patterns to know where it should dump salt on roads before snow storms.

Leotek says it also plans to start a series of other connected-device programs with the city government to improve the efficiency and the quality of people's lives.

"It is an honor for Lite-On to join forces with Taipei city government again following the Smart Pavilion for 2017 Universiade," said David Yeh, General Manager of Leotek SBU, Lite-On Group, referring to the 2017 Summer Universiade that took place from August 19 to 30 in Taipei, the largest international sports event ever held in Taiwan.

During the Universiade, Lite-On Group sponsored hundreds of LED smart lamps at a billiard hall in Taipei. The connected lamps were based on an intelligent monitoring system able to control lighting, undertake indoor positioning, measure flows of people as well as monitor temperatures, humidity and air quality.

"Considering that what people need is the priority of Leotek," Yeh said. "With the stylish and highly efficient 'future street lights,' we are looking forward to safer, more efficient, more convenient and expandable smart city services."

Lite-On, founded in 1975, develops optoelectronic equipment, storage devices and mobile device components. It has developed parts for computers, communication systems, consumer electronics and LED lighting.

Lite-On has also worked with Amazon Web Services and established a research base in Tianjin, China, alongside an automotive engineering research institution.

Taipei would join New York, Singapore, Barcelona and London as cities using fast internet and wireless connections to link up common electronic devices and improve public services.

In New York, for example, instantaneous flow of data among law enforcement agencies has helped police figure out via smartphones and tablets who's closest to the site of a crime. A 4-year-old program in Singapore connects government agencies electronically to citizens to help solve problems related to healthcare, aging and energy sustainability.
Partnership for secure ID cards

Taipei City also signed a partnership agreement January 30 with IOTA Foundation in Amsterdam to offer citizens secure digital ID cards.

IOTA, which stands for Internet Of Things Application, is an open source, non-profit organization based in Germany. IOTA specializes in a distributed ledger technology called "Tangle," enabling data and money be able to transfer via its network. The company has already announced a partnership with Microsoft.

The IOTA Foundation and Taipei City will explore new ways to use Tangle for improving data authenticity. The initial project: digital citizen cards with a built-in TangleID system.

As Taipei's "Smart City Living Lab" initiative enters its proof-of-concept phase, IOTA's technology will help stop anyone from tampering with digital ID cards. Taipei citizens should feel secure when voting, for example, as they would not worry about identity theft or fraud. The technology may apply eventually to healthcare in Taipei.

Taipei City has already been experimenting with the idea of open data platform with more than 300 "PM2.5 Air Boxes" being set up in city hall, government buildings and elementary schools since March 2016. These air box stations are able to collect local temperature, humidity, light and pollution.

"TangleID changes the role of the identifier (to become) more secure by turning it into an encrypted asset," said Lman Chu, Taiwanese co-founder of Biilabs, a Taiwanese startup focused on the distributed ledger technology. Chu spoke at the Taipei-Holland Entrepreneurship & Innotech Forum in Taipei last month.

"Because it's encrypted, no one can copy or spoof it," said Chu, who has 16 years of industry experience. "Only the owner can unlock it." Chu hires developers to build Tangle-based applications for Taipei City government, as part of the execution of their government contracts. "We are so excited about teaming up with Taipei City," said David Sonstebo, co-founder of the IOTA Foundation.

"It proves that our next-generation technology is ready for real-world use cases and is more than just a theory," he said at a media event in Amsterdam. "We're just beginning to scratch the surface of the effect IOTA can have on making the world of IoT ever-more connected and paving the way for not just smart cities, but a smart world."