Saving lives, saving time through smart city tech

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Whether it’s saving lives or saving you time, GIS has got you covered.

Photo: Our Hong Kong champion Tommy Chan (third right at the back) met all the winners of this year’s Young Scholar Award, together with Jack Dangermond (centre, with glasses), the founder and president of Esri at the Esri User Conference this summer. Credit to Esri China (HK).

Dr. Winnie Tang, Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong 

GIS is a key element of smart city technology that can not only save lives deep underground, but also save time stuck in traffic by providing the underlying data that influences decisions making in government transportation policy.

In June last year, 12 youth football players and their 25-year-old coach of the Wild Boar Team were stuck in floodwaters in a remote cave in northern Thailand. This rescue mission captured the attention of the whole world. At the end of this year, everyone can relive this event when a film produced based on this incident is released.

When people learned that the boys were trapped, tens of thousands of volunteers around the world (including soldiers and Navy SEAL divers in Thailand, cave divers from China, Japan, Australia, Finland, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States, and more) rushed to join the rescue operation. To effectively guide the operation, coordinate personnel and material supply, a comprehensive map was essential. The geographic information system (GlS) and 3D digital map that integrated the data and information were used to correlate the underground world to the land above, connecting the command centre and the rescue personnel.

The Thailand Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) pulled in GIS experts from Esri Thailand to create a series of maps to help locate the boys. The mapping team collected cave data recorded in the previous expeditions, together with real-time data of water and oxygen level from sensors inside the cave to a reach of 1,500 meters, and produced a 3D map that visualized the waterways in and above the cave. At the same time, they created a digital twin to simulate different situations, such as low and high water levels, so as to find the best way for the divers to undertake the rescue operation safely. Outside of this rescue mission, GlS has a wide range of applications. 

Saving lives, saving the time of your life

GIS is also a necessity when it comes to planning urban development. The winner of this year’s Esri Young Scholars Award in Hong Kong has demonstrated how GIS can be applied in various city issues, such as planning of public transportation. The competition encourages local university students to conduct research on their chosen topics with GIS. The champion can win a trip to the Esri User Conference held in the United States in July, where they can exchange ideas with winners from other countries and more than 18,000 GIS professionals. In addition, this year’s winners will also be given a chance to participate in an internship at the Urban Renewal Authority. It is a precious opportunity for them to apply what they have learned.

The champion this year is Chan Chun Yin Tommy, from the Department of Urban Planning and Design of the University of Hong Kong. He used transportation cost and travelling distance to measure the convenience of local public transportation. He calculated that Hong Kong people travel a total of nearly 13 million trips a day. 88% of them use public transport, with each trip taking an average of 43 minutes. In terms of time and cost, travelling is more convenient for residents in Kowloon and most of Hong Kong Island, while those in the Northeast New Territories are served with the least options. The student examined how far one can travel within the average 30 minute lunch break or with the cost of a McDonald’s hamburger ($15HK). The results show that residents in Kowloon East can travel the farthest with the most choices in reach, while those in the New Territories have access to the least. Given his results, Tommy urged the government to correct the disparity between travel time and the cost of lunch for residents in various districts.

Today, we are committed to building a sustainable and smart future; GIS is an indispensable tool for this development.

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