Fred Kalt, Managing Director of Yunex Traffic in the Asia Pacific region, speaks about the ambitious urbanization project ‘Smart Nation Singapore’, the first fully integrated Digitalization Hub in this multi-cultural island nation - and the question whether South-East Asia could become the birthplace of the future of mobility.
by Peter Rosenberger
Mr. Kalt, nowadays most people have a good idea what the expression ‘Smart City’ implies. But now, with the support of Siemens and Yunex Traffic, Singapore plans to become a ‘Smart Nation’. What is the idea behind that?
Fred Kalt: In Singapore, the phrase stands for a very ambitious vision of the future development of the entire city-state. To underline that it is not a mere utopia, but a well-defined strategy, the project has been given a fixed deadline reflected in its full name: 'Smart Nation 2030’. Within the next twelve years, Singapore wants to turn itself into the world’s smartest nation – in every respect, including mobility, health care, power supply and the creation of so-called ‘advanced factories’. Already today, many aspects of daily life are handled using digital technology: When leaving the house, the only things I need to take with me are my cell phone and my debit card since, across the entire city, I can use those two to pay for all services and goods, even bus or subway tickets. The only other thing you should always have with you in Singapore is an umbrella.
For the implementation of the ‘Smart Mobility 2030’ master plan, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) is relying on substantial support from Yunex Traffic. How has this this partnership come about?
Fred Kalt: The most important common denominator is our shared vision of how urban mobility should be organized in the future. It is very interesting to discover the many similarities between LTA’s master plan and the vision developed by Yunex Traffic. Most of the road traffic projects currently planned by LTA can be optimally implemented using systems from the Yunex Traffic range - either solutions that are already on the market, or innovative developments still in the pipeline. Only recently, on the occasion of a so-called Opportunity Workshop with LTA, we matched their current technology needs with the corresponding solutions in the Yunex Traffic portfolio. With all that, the time scheduled for this was not nearly long enough to list all the different realization options.
A few months ago, Siemens inaugurated the first fully integrated Digitalization Hub in Singapore. What exactly is behind this promising name?
Fred Kalt: The Digitalization Hub is a competence center that can be described as the counterpart to similar institutions founded by US-American IT giants such as Google or Microsoft, not only on the technical level, but also in terms of the available professional know-how and the inspiring ambiance. On the one hand, all our already available digital resources have been drawn together at the Hub. On the other hand, the team includes also experts from the region, for instance Bangalore. Since we plan to continually expand the Hub over the next years, we are always looking for highly qualified, competent new colleagues. The candidates need not necessarily come from the field of mobility. We also have very good use for specialized knowledge in the areas of video analysis, artificial intelligence or traffic algorithms.
What is your own role in Singapore?
Fred Kalt: On my business card it says ‘Managing Director ITS Asia Pacific’. Singapore is the perfect place for a hub from where to serve the entire region, for several reasons: not only because of its central location in the region, but also because here the decision-makers have a high affinity to technological innovation, providing us with the opportunity to implement many innovative developments together with the customer. This means that in Singapore, Siemens and Yunex Traffic areable already today to use advanced technologies as unique selling points to stand out from the competition – in many other markets, this is not possible to the same extent yet. It is one of my tasks to drive the business in the entire Asia Pacific region, using Singapore as my base of operation. At the moment, we are working especially hard on our activities not only in Singapore, but also in Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam and Thailand. In a second wave, the focus will expand to other ASEAN counties, for instance Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. According to our plans, the solutions developed at the Digitalization Hub in Singapore will subsequently be rolled out to those countries. They range from tunnel management and expressway systems right up to urban traffic management solutions, which have to meet special technological requirements in this region.
Is it thinkable that some of these solutions will, at a later stage, be deployed also in other parts in the world, hence possibly also in Europe?
Fred Kalt: Especially in the case of data-based, technologically neutral systems, this seems entirely conceivable, of course. The city of Singapore has offered, for instance, to make data from the electronic tolling system available if we are able to use them to provide added value to the road users. Hence there will probably be mobile apps that provide the users with up-to-the-minute information on the current traffic situation. And such concepts will certainly be quite easy to transfer to all other urban regions.
Besides building and environment, industrial productivity, health/ageing and public governance, mobility is one of the five key domains in the focus of the government’s ‘Smart Nation Singapore’ initiative. What are the main requirements that innovative transport solutions have to meet in the city-state?
Fred Kalt: To begin with we need to be clear about the master question behind the master plan: What should the mobility system look like in 2030? In other words: What we are planning now is the mobility landscape for the future era of connected and automated transport. Since Singapore has been among the first cities in the world to deploy holistic traffic management solutions, the infrastructure installed for this purpose is not really state-of-the-art anymore, of course. So the big modernization issues cover various areas ranging from Car2X up to fleet management for autonomous vehicles, from detection systems providing data for integrated travel time planning up to efficient ticketing systems or ‘Smart Transport’ solutions for self-driving vans. For me it is clear that, in order to build the ‘Smart Nation 2030’ on the transport level, we need to integrate the different transport modes that are still operated in parallel today.
Partnering with Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Siemens and Yunex Traffic are working on innovative mobility solutions based on self-driving vehicles. What is this cooperation project about?
Fred Kalt: The NTU has been commissioned by the government to establish a test field for autonomous vehicles where all conditions of usual road traffic can be simulated, for example complex intersections equipped with traffic lights, priority conflicts at pedestrian crossings, or driving through simulated rain in the night. The test field was opened six months ago. The infrastructure needed to simulate real-life traffic comes from Yunex Traffic. We have deployed a whole array of novel technologies that are not yet present on the local market, for instance our new sX controller, which is now able to communicate also with the local peripherals – or our proprietary management system for controlling autonomous vehicles.
What other innovations for the transport industry do you have in the pipeline? What product launches can we look forward to in the near future, maybe at the ITS World Congress 2019 in Singapore?
Fred Kalt: The rapid cadence in our current development efforts makes it impossible for me to name any concrete products. But I am certain that Yunex Traffic will be able to present a whole range of new solutions on the occasion of the ITS World Congress. Here too, the focus will be on data-driven applications – an area where our customer LTA hopes to generate especially substantial added value.
So it is quite conceivable that Singapore will be the first place where the vision of autonomous transport will become reality on a large scale.
In May 2018 it was announced that Yunex Traffic had been commissioned to equip Singapore’s new north-south corridor with an integrated traffic management and operating system. The corridor covers a total distance of 21.5 km, of which 12.5 km run through tunnels and 9 km across viaducts. In which respects – besides its gigantic dimensions – is this a special project?
Fred Kalt: A truly unique feature is the high Safety Integrity Level defined for the project This road tunnel has to meet more or less the same safety requirements as a rail tunnel. This is why the necessary technologies are not even available yet – Yunex Traffic is going to develop those in the course of the project. The first five of a total of eight years scheduled for the implementation of the corridor are slated for planning, design, engineering and software development. The gigantic order is a wonderful welcome present for my assignment here in Singapore. This great success is owed solely to the visionary outlook and the outstanding commitment of our Headquarters and the perfect performance of the local colleagues.
"Smart Nation" is considered to be one of the most forward-thinking urbanization projects in the world, and many of its facets are related to the smart use of technologies for autonomous driving. Do you think that Singapore could become the birthplace of the future of mobility?
Fred Kalt: As I see it, the future is starting at many places in parallel. Whether in China, in Europe or in the US - there are countless research and development projects everywhere. For me the question is rather which will be the first place to deploy the new technologies across a large area. And here, the densely populated city-state of Singapore with its already quite high technological level benefits from a certain head start, that’s true. So it is quite conceivable, I think, that Singapore will be the first place where the vision of autonomous transport will become reality on a large scale.
Let’s close with a more personal question: During your as yet 27 years with Siemens, you have been working in many different countries: in Nigeria, in Vietnam, in China, in the US – and also in Singapore on an earlier deployment. What made you decide to move to this Asian city again?
Fred Kalt: First of all, of course, the fascinating task. I am convinced that, thanks to our technological expertise, our commitment to serving the Asia Pacific region and our organizational setup we can make a real difference. Another reason is that I have been impressed by Singapore from the start, right from my very first visit more than 20 years ago. Over the years, the city has taken a very special place in my life and heart: It was home to me and my family for several periods, my son was born in Singapore and he will now join me here for a six-month traineeship. Living here is fun, and it is fascinating to watch the city’s dynamic development and to witness how very different cultures can inspire each other.
Mr. Kalt, thank you for the interview
Peter Rosenberger works as a journalist in Birkenau
Picture credits: istock/ake1150sb, Siemens AG, Fred Kalt