Smart Homes - How Technology is Changing Your HDB Estate
The future of residential living is already here. Meet the engineer who’s introducing “smart” into housing estates.
With over 80% of Singapore’s resident population living in flats built by the Housing and Development Board (HDB), it’s not an exaggeration to say that their policies have an outsized impact on many of our lives. Introduced in 2016 as part of the Smart Nation initiative, the HDB Smart Hub is the statutory board’s answer to future living and estate management. Zacary Tan, a Senior Engineer who works in the Centre of Excellence for Smart and Sustainable Research (COESSR) at HDB, shares more about his role in the project.
“I make HDB towns smarter. This includes deploying sensors, building data analytics capabilities and introducing Artificial Intelligence into housing estates. One of the key components I helped set up is the HDB Smart Hub,” he shares. “It is the central brain that oversees the health of all housing estates and ensures that building systems such as lifts, lighting and solar panels are running smoothly.”
Making Housing Estates More Liveable
The Smart Hub is a shining example of how HDB leverages Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to make its towns and housing estates more liveable, efficient and sustainable for its residents. ICT is used to augment current efforts like solar energy generation, waste collection, as well as lift and water pump monitoring, to provide residents with more reliable estate services, quicker incident response time and greater savings.
The HDB Smart Hub acts as the central brain that oversees the health of all housing estates and building systems. (Photo credit: HDB)
Here’s how it works. First, sensors are installed on estate fixtures like common area lighting to capture real-time information — for example, ambient light levels, energy used, and even nearby motion-sensing which helps brighten residents’ paths. The sensors then feed this data back to the Smart Hub. Engineers like Zacary work in tandem with estate managers, tech companies and university researchers to analyse the collected data. Insights gleaned will then be used towards saving energy, optimising maintenance cycles and even predicting issues before they occur. For instance, lighting sensors enable HDB to understand human traffic patterns and optimise the provision of lighting. The lighting in common areas would be dimmed slightly if no human traffic is detected, and this reduces energy usage by as much as 60%.
“Sensors installed in smart systems, such as water pumps and landscape irrigation, can tell us if there are any abnormalities or malfunctions, and alert estate managers promptly,” Zacary explains. “Another island-wide initiative is the roll-out of solar panels on HDB rooftops. Data such as irradiance (amount of light from the sun) and the actual amount of electricity generated for use is similarly collected for monitoring, improvements and better planning of future solar installations.”
Producing Concrete Results
Looking ahead, the Smart Hub initiative will be scaled up to cover all HDB towns in Singapore. While proud to be a part of the team, Zacary admits that he had to overcome a huge learning curve at the start of the project. “I didn’t know much about the Internet of Things (IoT) landscape, digital lingo or data-related stuff when I first came onboard,” he says. “Over time, I slowly picked things up and I now have a clearer sense of the various parts that make up the ‘Smart Town’ big picture.”
Working in HDB has been a rewarding journey for him. “It was where I felt I would be able to put into practice what I know and, more importantly, what I like to do,” he says. It wasn’t until his friend told him how impressed they were with the smart technologies that were installed in their estate that he began to realise the impact of the work that he was doing. “Perhaps because I deal with these technologies day in, day out that I began to overlook the value they actually bring to residents,” he laughs.
Ultimately, he believes that one should not be discouraged by hard work when it comes to engineering. “Engineering teaches one to face big problems by breaking them down into manageable pieces,” he muses. “The work of these small pieces still needs to be done. And when you look back at the finished product and the big picture, you can pinpoint exactly how you’ve made your mark.”