Making sense of vast data with technology

Making sense of vast data with technology
Technologies from the Safe City Test Bed included 3D digital maps that can predict congestion. The Government will conduct a study at the year’s end to determine which of the technologies can be put into action.

Imagine a Singapore where the police can know within minutes of a crowd forming the likely emotional state of those in the mob, as well as identify people within it who have criminal records.

Such a capability, if available last year, could have given the police the upper hand when they were responding to the riot that broke out in Little India on Dec 8.

But it may not be long before such technology becomes a reality, judging from projects showcased at the Safe and Liveable Cities forum last week by four consortiums which participated in the Safe City Test Bed.

The test bed was launched by the Government in May last year and it involved security and technology firms such as Accenture, NEC, AGT International, Hitachi, O'Connor's, Airbus Defence and Space, NCS and Oracle.

The companies were grouped into four consortiums and given the challenge of pooling disparate data sources from the various agencies, analysing the information and using the data to create an early-warning mechanism for emergency responders.

"Realising our limitations, we turned to the private sector and gave them access to our problem statements and, more importantly, to our operational data," said Senior Deputy Secretary of the Home Affairs Ministry Khoo Boon Hui during his opening address at the forum.

"We challenged them to use this data to create and validate breakthrough technology that will improve our situational awareness, sense-making, trending and forecasting capabilities."

As security agencies around the world face budget cuts, it will become increasingly necessary to use technology to make sense of the data collected from tools like closed-circuit television cameras, he said.

He added that it is especially pertinent in times of panic, disaster and crisis, when security officials need to act fast.

"We recall how the identification of the Boston Marathon bombers through video surveillance has led to a renewed interest in its use in cities around the world," he said.

"For that incident, the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) was flooded with digital images from television crews, private sector surveillance and the public.

"In the first 72 hours, the FBI received over 13,000 distinct images, 2,300 videos, 9,600 calls and 5,500 tips from the public. It is indeed a daunting task having to deal with information overload, especially with finite resources."

He said ideas from the test bed can help security agencies sift through such vast amounts of data, distinguish innocuous events from serious threats and improve emergency response times.

"The sheer amount and variety of data collected by the Government means agencies can no longer rely on manual processes to retrieve actionable information."

With the test bed drawing to a close, the Government will conduct a feasibility study at the end of this year to determine which of the technologies can be put into action, said the Economic Development Board (EDB), which worked with the Home Affairs Ministry to organise the initiative.

"The participating government agencies are in the process of assessing the technologies to enhance our operational capabilities," said an EDB spokesman.

There are also plans for more of such test beds, he added.

This article was first published on June 9, 2014.
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