High Hopes for Smart Housing

A massive social housing program is viewed as the means for the Taipei municipal to build an integrated smart city.   

The development of smart housing– utilizing Taiwan’s strengths in the ICT (information and communications technology) sector – is central to the Taipei City government’s blueprint for the future. The plan also matches the national government’s objective under its 5+2 Innovative Industries initiative to promote a circular economy in which waste is reduced to the absolute minimum.

The goal is for the capital city to become a “living lab” taking into account such functions as communications, energy management, mobility, education, medical care, i-voting, and environmental improvements.

This urban regeneration plan, part of the Taipei 2050 Vision Project, calls for the use of big data and GIS (geographic information system) tools to improve the city’s housing stock, amenities, and public welfare. At the heart of the initiative is a NT$95 billion (US$1.1 billion) program designed to benefit the less well-off by building social housing [see the accompanying article for more details].

The initiative is also expected to spur private-sector activity and urban renewal, as the city’s aging and somewhat ram-shackle housing stock is replaced by smarter buildings.

Taipei Commissioner of Urban Development Lin Jou-min. Photo: Jules Quartly

The project is being led by Lin Jou-min, Taipei City’s Commissioner of Urban Development and an internationally recognized architect who has worked at a number of high-profile New York practices. “We are applying the concept of the circular economy to architecture,” Lin explained to Taiwan Business TOPICS at his City Government office in Xinyi district. “Given a NT$95 billion housing project, you have to follow the right way and ensure the optimum outcome.”

Besides erecting smart buildings, he sees the principles of a circular economy as encompassing recycling, upcycling (defined by Wikipedia as the “process of transforming by-products, waste materials, useless, or unwanted products into new materials or products”), and means of saving energy and reducing waste and emissions. Implementation of these principles should start with the design process and continue throughout the life of the project by means of maintenance and repair.

“Taiwan has one of the most impressive 3C industries (computing, communication, and consumer electronics) in the world, so how can we not incorporate the 3C industry in building public housing in the era of smart cities?” Lin asks. He notes that 3-5% of the entire building budget will be spent on intelligent systems, such as the latest water, electricity and gas metering systems to ensure optimum efficiency. The buildings will also feature solar energy installations on the rooftops, and the latest computerized and internet-of-things (IoT) systems for centralized control of lighting, elevators, air-conditioning, ventilation, security, temperature, and many other factors.

“We are bringing in content and extending the content of intelligent industries in the building industry. Again, this is groundbreaking. By doing this, skills will be upgraded and it will create a virtuous circle. There’s no limit to growth and what can be achieved,” Lin comments.

Assuredly, with the heft of the city government and a huge budget behind the social housing program, businesses and institutions are keen to get involved and develop systems and applications. “My belief from the beginning has been that housing is a necessity, not a luxury,” says Lin. “So it is not just a question of the price but also of the quality and the legacy you are leaving.”

Lin adds that housing should not be seen in isolation, but rather as part of the solution for a truly smart city. For instance, given the rapid aging of the population, it is increasingly important to provide smart medical care, which requires systems within buildings enabling hospitals or caregivers to be kept informed about the health status of the residents.

A rendering of one of the planned smart public-housing complexes. Photo: Jules Quartly

Parking is another issue. Lin says the government hopes to provide “U-cars” and charging stations at public-housing developments, much like the ride-sharing rental option for U-bikes. “You wouldn’t have to own your own car or a parking space,” he explains.

Another element in smart housing could be constant upgrades in facilities such as air-conditioning units or even furniture, promoting greater efficiencies and cost savings. A model for this type of system is one at Schiphol Airport in The Netherlands that features “lighting as a service.” Dutch-based multinational Philips owns the fixtures and fittings and takes responsibility for performance, maintenance, and replacement. Schiphol simply pays for the light it uses.

Smart housing essentially means using automated processes to control the building’s operations, such as temperature, ventilation, security and so on. Although not a new idea, it has come of age with the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, and more recently with the Artificial Intelligence of Things (AIoT).

A booth at the 2018 Smart City Summit & Expo at Taipei’s Nangang Exhibition Hall. Photo: Jules Quartly

The latter has become a touchstone issue for the government. Speaking at the 2018 Smart City Summit & Expo at Taipei’s Nangang Exhibition Hall in March, President Tsai Ing-wen set out a vision of how Taiwan could use its expertise in software and hardware integration to build its potential in the AIoT field, thereby stimulating economic growth and infrastructure development for the next generation.

Also present at the Summit was Taipei Deputy Mayor Charles Lin, who is put-ting together a global organization of smart cities known as Go Smart. His aim is to make Taipei a hub for innovation and a “proof-of-concept venue” for smart housing-management projects, among other ideas.

As part of this initiative, the city government has set up the Taipei Smart City Project Management Office (PMO), which is developing a reference manual for smart community services in public housing. Other smart-building ideas being tried out range from using QR code stickers on toilets to give feedback on cleanliness and repairs to a City Hall robot reception service.

Among the local businesspeople at the Smart City Expo was James Yih, general manager of Full Enterprise Corp., which is at the forefront of developing the connected home market. The company offers an array of gateway-to-end devices, app-to-cloud platforms, and modules to control security, energy efficiency, and other functions.

Full’s booth at the event was designed to show what can be done through technology in the house of the future to enhance comfort, convenience, flexibility, environmental protection, and money saving. The company is also developing DIY kits so that individuals – and not just builders and businesses – can be involved in making their homes smarter with the help of standardized communication protocols. Further, with the development of voice activation assistants and home robots from Amazon and other sources, there is plenty of scope to improve care for the elderly and physically challenged.

Yih’s company has worked with a number of elder-care centers in Taiwan and China to provide smart solutions, such as modules in lamps enabling them to be turned on and off or dimmed, simply by making a verbal request. In the future, Full plans to turn phones into voice-control devices to control home appliances.

While we are not yet in the futuristic realm of The Jetsons, with their flying cars and houses on stilts, the vision of life first brought to the small screen in 1962 doesn’t look that far off any more. Smart appliances, robot vacuum cleaners, and voice commands are already here and there’s a lot more to come. Taiwan’s smart home and smart cities initiatives will ensure that it is an active participant in these developments.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *