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Rapid Smart City Initiatives are Advancing Quickly in Asia

In Southeast Asia, cities are the engines of economic growth. But with millions of people flocking to work and live in megacities, many problems come to the fore. For example, by 2050, 66 percent of the world’s population will likely be concentrated in urban areas. The challenge is determining how cities can supply their citizens with proper housing, transportation, security, food, water, and energy while ensuring that they maintain economic-, social-, and environmental sustainability.

What is a Smart City?

Megacities all over Asia have to address these challenges by adopting disruptive innovations in every aspect of living. Each metropolitan area must become a smart city, which leverages data and technology to offer products and deliver services that significantly improve the lives of citizens, all while being sustainable. There are cities that employ different iterations of smart city technology all over the world, and those smart city initiatives include:

Rapid Smart Cities Advancement
Rapid Smart Cities Advancement
  • Digitally connected buses that talk to each other and inform the public when buses will arrive
  • Sensors on roads that read traffic and pedestrian movement to better manage traffic flow
  • Parks and buildings that use cameras and sensors to maintain security

Smart cities maximize the use of data, wireless connection, and the Internet of Things to create city-wide efficiencies that benefit its people and businesses.

Smart Cities in Asia

Innovation is not endemic to more advanced Western nations. Advancements are found all over the world, sometimes even in smaller cities that have more issues to address. Southeast Asian cities are taking major steps to innovate city living.

1.     Danang, Vietnam

Danang is one Asian city that has experienced rapid growth in recent years. It has an abundance of science and engineering schools which help IT leader, FPT, secure talent. In 2016, the company opened an IT hub, employing about 10,000 engineers. With other companies laying down roots in the city as well, Danang is growing into a tech hub.

In two years, and with the help of FPT, the city plans to combat traffic jams through real-time road- and traffic signals monitoring. It also plans to implement an electronic patient record system for hospitals and a crop management tool for farmers. In additions, Danang will use smart technology in natural disaster response and rescue.

Other parts of Vietnam are also reinventing themselves into smart cities. Hanoi, in partnership with Japan’s trade ministry and companies like Sumitomo and Mitsubishi, plans to be a fully operational smart city by 2023. Ho Chi Minh, on the other hand, is teaming with Keppel from Singapore to develop smart tech.

2.     Hangzhou, China

In late 2016, the government of Hangzhou launched a project called City Brain with the Alibaba Group and Foxconn Technology Group. City Brain is an AI hub that uses big data and real-time analysis to help the city think and make decisions. It will deploy public resources to address any issues in everyday city operations, like road accidents, emergencies, and safety hazards, with the AI hub synthesizing videos to discern where traffic congestions occur. Public testing showed that it has improved traffic light and flow regulation in major roads. It was reported in January 2018 that City Brain will also be used in Malaysia.

3.     Pune, India

India plans to create 100 smart cities. The project is still being developed, but the city of Pune has a plan to become a green city and gather data from its community to optimize transportation and city services. It will also connect existing buildings, making transportation more efficient.

4.     Songdo, South Korea

Twenty-five miles east of Seoul, Songdo was developed to be a city unencumbered by the woes of Seoul and other overpopulated cities. Songdo surveys traffic through sensors on the streets and in buildings. It is a green city, with more open spaces than infrastructure, and cycling is the best way to commute. Apartments are digitally advanced, with neighbors holding video chats with each other, and everything can be done remotely. A massive wind tower also keeps the city cooler than the city’s surrounding areas. While the city has failed to attract businesses and residents, and completion dates have been pushed back, city developers are confident that it will soon be fully functional.

The Leading Smart City in Asia

In June 2018, Singapore’s Minister of Communications and Information said that the country is ready to pioneer smart city initiatives,  and it will collaborate with a network of nations across Southeast Asia. Singapore has proposed the establishment of the ASEAN Smart Cities Network, a collaborative platform for cities to work together in building sustainable urban areas. With the growth of connectivity and new technologies, there would be more opportunities for business and disruptive innovations in the region.

While hundreds of cities all over ASEAN states are just starting to adopt smart tech, Singapore is already leading the way because of its scale. The country lacks the overlapping state-, local- and federal bureaucracies of other major cities, but the government is willing to spend generously on infrastructure.

Singapore Smart Nation

Adopting new innovations is not new to Singapore. In 2014, the government launched “Singapore Smart Nation”, an initiative that aims for the country to be the frontrunner in developing and implementing IoT making it the Asia smart city.

Singapore is expanding the use of technology to position itself as a leading global smart city. It is developing smart Housing & Development Boards (HBDs)—condominium-type units with built-in smart infrastructure. Its Home Energy Management System allows residents to monitor and manage appliances, like lights and air conditioning, remotely. Its public spaces will also have smart technology in terms of lighting, car park management, and waste disposal systems.

Smartphone impact on Smart Homes

Some homes have IoT devices that are controlled by a smartphone. Additionally, they also have sensors for senior citizens that monitor their movements and notify caregivers when they detect irregular behavior.

Singapore is smart city initiatives also are developing another cashless payment alternative in the form of accessories. An embedded chip in watches, rings, or IDs will turn these items into payment devices, eliminating the need for cash and credit cards.

The city is working on a 3D map project called Virtual Singapore as well. It will include data on buildings, land, and environment. This would help government agencies solve problems like identifying flood-prone areas. The public can contribute to the project by sending information about traffic patterns and the locations of different establishments.

Smart App Solutions in Asia Smart City

Apps like MyTransport and Bus Uncle are helping commuters travel more efficiently. They accurately inform users of bus arrival times, give directions, and can even tell how crowded it is on each bus. The city is also planning to apply driverless minibusses, that would ferry commuters from the train stations to their homes, and self-driving cars will test on public roads.

There are also service apps like MyResponder, which mobilizes a community to save cardiac arrests patients within their vicinity, while OneService lets citizens send feedback about any municipal issues.

Why Singapore Uses Smart City Initiatives

Unlike other countries and cities, Singapore has less space and resources to work with. It ranks third worldwide in population density and reached its reclaimed land limits in 1995. The country needs to intelligently manage, save, and maximize its land by reshaping its housing infrastructure.

It also wants to be independent. By 2061, it intends to be self-sufficient, as it still depends on Malaysia for water. By then it wants to decreases its reliance on Malaysia from 75% to 50%. In terms of food, 90% is imported; Singapore wants to increase its food security by 2030 by growing its own.

The megacity also wants to reduce energy consumption, hoping to decrease by 95% its dependence on natural gas from Malaysia and Indonesia.

Singapore has a lot to work on. But it knows how to maximize its resources to fulfill its future as a smart city. Given its advancements and tech initiatives, it is on track to lead Southeast Asia into an exciting smart technology era. Once other countries see how successful Singapore becomes, the rest of these ASEAN nations will follow suit, which will ultimately create rich cultures and economies within the region.


Maven Car-Sharing: Monetizing Mobility and Expanding its Service

The ride-sharing industry has exploded in the past decade, making transportation more convenient and accessible all over the world. And as car ownership rates have gone down, people rely more on ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft to commute, with other ride-sharing apps and car subscriptions services cropping up. Now General Motors (GM) is piloting a new peer-to-peer car service called Maven car-sharing. It has a business model similar to Airbnb, with car owners in cities such as Boston, Orlando, Washington, DC, Chicago, Detroit and others renting out their vehicles. This is significant progress since our last reporting on the topic earlier in the year.

Putting Maven Car-Sharing to Work

The average American car owner spends no more than one hour a day driving, essentially paying for expensive cars that go unused for long periods of time. But with GM’s Peer Cars service and mobility app Maven car-sharing, car owners can rent out their GM vehicles—Chevys, Buicks, and Cadillacs—to a network of app users.

People who own or lease a GM vehicle from 2015 or newer can list the vehicles for rent. Owners can make up to $500 or more per month, which makes up for the maintenance for their cars.

Julia Steyn, Vice President of Urban Mobility at GM, said there is a strong demand for car-sharing. She also said that there are car owners who are not always able to maximize their cars, which ultimately become wasted assets.

Maven aims to offset the vehicle investment by giving owners the opportunity to benefit from a quick ROI.

How Maven Car-Sharing Works

On the Maven app, Peer Cars are available to its 150,000 members. A person can go on the app, select a vehicle based on a particular price point, go to the vehicle’s location, and unlock it using the app. The renter and the owner don’t meet to transact and exchange keys, especially since the cars in the Maven network do not require keys.

A car owner who wants to list a vehicle for rent will need to fill an application to qualify. Once it is qualified, the owner takes it into GM to have the accessories installed. These accessories include one that allows for keyless and smartphone access. GM provides an insurance of up to $1 million for all participating vehicles.

Once everything is set up, it’s as easy as booking an Uber. It is a great alternative for people who prefer to drive themselves. It is also a reliable option for those who need cars for a short period but without the tedious commitment of a rental car. Members can rent vehicles by the hour, day, or even per month.

Building on the Foundation of Maven Carsharing

Maven is not the first app to offer a peer-to-peer model. Turo, formerly RelayRides from San Francisco, pioneered this service in 2010. It now has about four million customers who can access 170,000 cars across the US. An independently-owned company, Turo offers a wide range of vehicles for short-term and long-term rentals, ranging from $10-$250 a day. Compared to conventional rent-a-car services like Hertz or Avis, Turo boasts an average 30% discount on their cars.

Turo, in its early years, worked with General Motors’ subsidiary OnStar. Now that the partnership has concluded, OnStar’s in-vehicle safety and security services are critical in Maven operations. All GM vehicles released in recent years are equipped with 4G Wi-Fi and OnStar security systems. When a customer is ready to use the vehicle, OnStar unlocks it for the customer through the smartphone.

Maven’s Foreseeable Future

While it may seem like it is a competing service within the Maven app, GM says it’s actually an opportunity to address a strong demand they are seeing. People want cars for rent without the friction of traditional rental service. And with quick turnaround times with ride-sharing services, and even car subscription services, they know they have to keep up in terms of accessibility. Maven aims to analyze the beta testing data culled by locals and customers to better understand the needs of the stakeholders. They want to know how they can continue engagement between both owners and renters.

Maven carsharing is also planning to roll out autonomous versions of GM’s Chevrolet Bolt EV by 2019. Maven car-sharing still has much to polish. But judging from the clamor for varied transportation alternatives, more cities may have Maven vehicles on the road within the next two years.

Gene Editing in Agriculture – The Business of Super Foods

You might be familiar with genetically modified organism (GMO) foods and the controversy surrounding them. However, you may not have heard about gene editing in agriculture. For the $15 billion biotechnology seed industry, gene editing in agriculture is making huge waves. Several start-ups in the industry are making bold moves, and major changes are coming. These companies are tackling some of the biggest challenges in the food industry ranging from obesity epidemics to food shortages. You might be amazed at what the future might hold when it comes to the types of foods available.

GMO Versus Gene Editing in Agriculture – Major Differences

The difference between GMO and gene editing in agriculture is quite substantial. Both gene editing and GMO methods enhance foods through DNA changes, but that’s where the similarities end. To make GMO food,  DNA from another type of plant is transferred to another one. Gene editing in agriculture, on the other hand, is “non-transgenic.” Gene editing targets an area of the plant’s DNA that is known to cause problems and makes it inactive.

statistics of gene editing in agriculture
Gene Editing the Future of Agriculture

Why is this important? There are several reasons why. First, gene editing in agriculture is much more precise in action without merging the DNA of two organisms. Second, it is much faster in getting results. GMO foods take an average of 12 years to develop while gene editing only averages five years. The third and the biggest reason, perhaps, involves the USDA. At present, the USDA has determined that gene editing in agriculture does not need regulating. All of these offer major advantages over GMO food development.

Bold Opportunity – Bold Moves

Being able to develop better foods faster without mixing genes from different organisms introduced new opportunities for businesses. Likewise, gene editing in agriculture in much less expensive than GMO methods. This provided the real stimulus for new competition.

A GMO food costs as much as $150 million to develop. However, gene editing in agriculture can cost up to 90 percent less than GMO techniques. The reduced cost combined with a faster time to market is great for start-up businesses. As a result, several new gene editing businesses are challenging the “big boys” in the industry.

Companies like Monsanto, DowDuPont and Syngenta AG have to consider new approaches as a result.

gene editing dna being altered, gene editing in agriculture
Gene Editing DNA Being Altered

New Competition – The Gene Editing in Agricultural Landscape Today

GMO food companies try to preserve foods longer or make them resistant to herbicides and pesticides. However, gene editing in agriculture has a much broader focus on making our foods better. Imagine wheat that has only small amounts of gluten. How about apples that don’t brown? It plans to introduce better plants faster.  At the same time, its mission is to provide healthier foods in the process.

Gene Editing in Agriculture - Company Names
Prominent Players in Gene Editing in Agriculture
  • Calyxt Inc. – Founded by a genetics professor, this start-up began eight years ago. Today, it boasts only of 45 employees, but the company’s potential is significant. Its current gene editing product is a soybean oil that is much healthier. Farmers working with Calyxt just planted 17,000 acres of the gene-edited plant making it the first one to market commercially.
  • Cibus – The start-up formed in 2001 is based in San Diego, California. In addition to acquiring $70 million in capital investments, the company has its own proprietary gene editing system. Its Rapid Trait Development System has already produced a canola oil plant resistant to specific herbicides. Cibus is also working on enhanced rice, flax and potato crops as well.
  • Benson Hill Biosystems – Based in North Carolina, this start-up uses gene editing technologies alongside big data to make agricultural advances. Its goal is to make plants more productive, foods more sustainable, and crops more tolerant. Their system explores the untapped genetic diversity of plants creating better foods along the way. The company has already received over $35 million in capital investments so far.
  • Pairwise Plants – Also based in North Carolina, this new startup has received attention from some of the agricultural giants in the industry. Pairwise Plants has received $125 million in investments from Monsanto to develop new superfoods. The company is currently working with corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, and canola crops. Likewise, it uses CRISPR, a specific gene editing technique to create enhanced food diversity.

Targeting Healthier and More Sustainable Foods through Genetic Diversity

Statistically, about 99 percent of the calories consumed globally come from 1 percent of the genetic diversity potential in foods. Gene editing in agriculture seeks to change this.

The realization of more sustainable and productive crops is possible by altering specific points on plants’ genes. Likewise, this process also creates healthier foods without mixing DNA from different organisms. Many innovative businesses see it in agriculture as a significant breakthrough in addressing global food challenges.  With new start-ups pushing the envelope in this regard, bold changes are likely to happen in the near future.

Cyber Security Trends for Small and Medium Businesses

The threat to the cybersecurity of companies is steadily growing. By comparing the number of incidents in the Q1 in 2017 and Q1 in 2018, Positive Technologies reported that the number of incidents increased by 32%. It also cited a general growth in other cybersecurity trends. This pertains to companies across the board—from small companies to corporations and conglomerates. While large companies have the resources to fend off cyber threats, small and medium businesses (SMB) are often unprepared. They think small entities like themselves do not need to invest in cybersecurity and see protecting themselves online as an onerous task, however, recent trends in cybersecurity for small business  suggest otherwise.

A Precarious State for Cybersecurity for Small Business

According to the report, hackers have an increased interest in obtaining account credentials and personal information. Data theft in 2018 was 13% higher than in 2017.

The greatest increase, however, was in malware attacks—up by 75% since the first quarter of 2017. Malware is the also the method of choice for hackers.

In five out of six malware attacks, the targets are individuals. They are not always familiar with the dangers of online threats, and so they fall victim to phishing and other attacks. SMBs lack sophistication around security, making them an easy and lucrative target for cybercriminals. Therefore, with less investment in cybersecurity, and even less knowledge on protecting themselves, they are constantly at risk.

Receptive vs. Reactive

When SMBs experience any kind of cyber attack, they try to adopt a “business as usual” attitude towards the problem. They know they can’t stop operations or put a pause on the business to address the infection and get rid of the consequences of the attack. By the time they formulate a plan to deal with an attack, they have been fully breached.

The method is problematic because it is extremely costly. The average cost to address a breach is $141 per record, according to the 2017 Ponemon Institute Study. This covers investigation, PR remediation, and legal fees, and IT concerns. Therefore, a small data breach of 1000 records would amount to $141,000. SMBs do not always have this much disposable money to address this concern. The problem could have been avoided if they had taken basic measures to thwart cyber attacks.

Trends in Cybersecurity for Small Business, an illustration of cyber attacks.
Malware is the first choice of hackers. Attacks increased by 75% in 2017.

CyberSecurity Trends: A Layered Defense

Experts suggest having a more proactive stance. SMBs need to use a layered security strategy that can detect and stop suspicious activities at each phase of the attack. This increases the chance that malware is stopped early in the process, but includes additional defense systems should the attacks bypass those early defenses.

1.     Patch the Bugs

Software bugs (vulnerabilities) have the power to make your devices susceptible to breach. The software can regress or stop working, and this creates an opportunity for hackers to enter your system. Always update and completely patch your operating systems and apps to plug any potential cracks in the system. End-of-life devices, those that manufacturers no longer create updates for, are easy targets. Consider replacing old devices so you can maintain strong security within your systems.

2.     Neutralize Threats

If an attacker does find a way into your system, you need provisions that can stop the attack before there are any malicious consequences. Installing endpoint protection and an antivirus software are basic requirements for cybersecurity. These will tell you that there is a threat and often eliminate it.

3.     Environment Protection

Attacks cannot prosper without logging on to systems that contain important data. Make sure to log in to your accounts using complex usernames and alphanumeric passwords, and log out or lock it when you leave the platform even if only for a moment. Trust the indicators of your accounts when creating new passwords, so you have a more solid shield against various online threats.

4.     Data Protection

Making backing up files a habit, even better yet, automate it. Store some files in the cloud or on a different hard drive to make sure that you won’t have to completely start from scratch when the worst happens.

5.    Training

Train every one of your employees on Cybersecurity. Ensure each of them is aware they are a significant part of the SMB defense strategy and that they know how to recognize a Social Engineering attack. This will benefit the employee at work and in their personal lives.

Scalable Defense

Even though SMBs do not have the same IT capabilities as larger companies, this does not make their data any less important. Any kind of breach is disruptive no matter the size of the company. SMBs need to build an effective defense that makes sense for the size of their company and the kind of data they need to protect.

1.     Simple administration

Security solutions should be simple, intuitive, and easy to implement. SMBs don’t have IT teams so they must do these things by themselves, in ways that are supportable for them.

2.     Comprehensive solution

Adopt a system that not only offers information but one that also intelligently and automatically makes decisions when breaches are detected.

3.     Cost-effective investment

Security packages do not have to be expensive to be effective. Cybersecurity companies for small business should take the time to find out which security features are critical to their operations, and implement systems that are relevant to them.

4.     Non-disruptive to operations

Good IT systems do not interrupt productivity. Ongoing security should be behind the scenes, protecting the environment and users.

Small- and medium-sized businesses must never neglect the importance of staying on top of their security defense. It is just one more step they have to make to ensure that their businesses are in top shape. SMBs must always keep track of cybersecurity trends to understand current threats and what can be done to prevent them, or in the worst case remediate them and keep operations running smoothly and safely.