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Singapore touts open platforms in smart nation drive, acknowledges need to do better in security

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Singapore is pushing out several new initiatives, including a drowning detection system, as part of its ongoing smart nation drive, whilst touting the importance of an open API-driven framework in driving such efforts. It also acknowledges the country needs to do more to improve its security posture, particularly in the aftermath of the SingHealth data breach.

Smart city models are no longer a novelty, with countries such as China, Malaysia, and Germany embarking on various projects to improve their local environments and citizen services.

Compared to other global smart city projects, though, Singapore is taking a different approach by creating common, open platforms, according to Minister-in-Charge of Smart Nation Vivian Balakrishnan, who is also the country’s foreign affairs minister.

With this open ecosystem, comprising open access to data, APIs (application programming interfaces), and toolboxes, both its citizens and private sector then would be able to create and develop services, said Balakrishnan during a briefing with local media.

“It’s an integrated approach to create more relevant, responsive services for citizens. That’s where we can deliver a competitive advantage,” the minister said.

He added that Singapore was able to do so because the country operated on a single layer of government and was small enough to function as a city in itself.

Singapore needs to “up our game” in security

The open access to data, though, may potentially expose citizens to added security risks, especially since organisations still are entrenched in poor security practices, as revealed in the SingHealth data breach.

Investigation into the July 2018 security incident had uncovered, amongst others, the use of weak administrative passwords, unpatched workstations, and inadequacies in the network that allowed hackers to run bulk queries.

The SingHealth breach had compromised personal data of 1.5 million patients as well as outpatient medical data of 160,000 patients that visited the healthcare provider’s facilities.

Asked if the incident had prompted the government to relook its smart nation approach, Balakrishnan highlighted the need to first recognise that security was “a clear and present concern”, and one that was evolving.

He also noted that Singapore was subject to “very sophisticated, ongoing advanced persistent threats”, which further underscored the need to take the country’s cybersecurity strategy “very very seriously”.

“There’s no [one] final solution. It’s [an] ongoing effort. Security has to be baked into the rollout of digital services,” he said, pointing to the government’s focus on five key projects in its smart nation strategy, which included the National Digital Identity (NDI), e-payments, and the Smart Nation Sensor Platform.

The minister noted that the SingHealth breach demonstrated that humans were fallible and would make mistakes. This meant systems would need to be constantly monitored and upgraded, and skillsets also would need to be updated.

In addition, every vulnerability must be plugged, access controls should be properly managed, proper validation should be made, and so on. Efforts needed to ensure all the different components adequately were safeguarded, he said, noting that multiple loopholes needed to be aligned for hackers to break in successfully.

Commenting on the oversights that led to the SingHealth breach, Balakrishnan acknowledged: “We definitely need to up our game, but we cannot go back to paper and pen.”

Detecting potential drowning, shuttling passengers without drivers

In pushing ahead with its smart nation plan, the minister revealed several pilots that recently launched or were slated to commence later this year and in 2019.

For instance, an ongoing trial uses computer vision and recognition technology to monitor swimming pools and detect potential drowning incidents based on behavioural patterns. Alerts then are sent out to lifeguards who can respond to such incidents.

A three-month public trial involving autonomous shuttle buses also would begin next year along a 5km route on Sentosa island. This would be an extension of a previous on-road pilot, launched in June this year, along a 1km road at Tanjong Beach, also located on Sentosa.

There also were plans to launch, later this month, a mobile app for the country’s citizen account SingPass, which was used to access e-government services. Currently in beta test mode amongst a selected user base, SingPass Mobile would offer an added layer of security by allowing citizens to use the biometric feature on their mobile phones to log into their account, Balakrishnan said.

He also pointed to ongoing efforts to expand the reach of the MyInfo service, a centralised repository that enabled certain data fields to be automatically populated with the citizen’s personal information, such as passport number, residential address, and mobile number.

The service works by extracting data provided to–and archived by–the respective government agencies, as and when they were required to pre-fill forms. All SingPass accounts have a corresponding MyInfo profile.

To date, 110 government services and 90 private sector services are linked to MyInfo, including local banks and insurance companies.

According to Balakrishnan, there also are plans to release an upgraded version of the “above-ground boxes”, or AG boxes.

First unveiled when the government debuted its smart nation vision in 2014, these boxes served as all-in-one containers with power and fibre connectivity, and held data sensors from different government agencies. These boxes were touted to reduce the need for unnecessary groundwork, hence, cutting deploying time and cost.

While he declined to share details, the minister said tweaks to the AG boxes were likely to focus on their connectivity such as wireless technologies, which currently were being trialled.

The Singapore government last week laid out plans to move some of its systems to the cloud and build a suite of standardised software components to help quicken application development.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the government would need to “reengineer” its systems and processes to drive the country’s smart nation goal, including transforming the way it developed software. Lee revealed plans for a Singapore Government Technology Stack (SGTS), which would comprise common software components used in application development.

(Source: Singapore’s Smart Nation and Digital Government Office)

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The all-electric EQS is ground zero for Mercedes’ most lavish tech

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Lavish and electric, the 2022 Mercedes-Benz EQS doesn’t look like any other car the German automaker offers, and neither does the rest of the range come near its frankly excessive tech and gadgetry. Unveiled today, and headed to US dealerships in fall of 2021, the new EQS won’t only be America’s first taste of Mercedes electrification, but the headliner for a whole range of luxury features it’s been working on.

EQS MBUX Hyperscreen

We’ve already spent plenty of words describing Mercedes’ epic new dashboard, but the MBUX Hyperscreen does seem to elicit an outsized response. A 56-inch wide single sheet of curved glass hides three different displays, blurring the edges so that it resembles one, vast panel.

There’s a 12.3-inch display for the driver’s instrumentation, another 12.3-inch display for the front passenger, and an even bigger 17.7-inch OLED touchscreen in the center console. As you’d hope, Mercedes’ UI designers have made good use of all those pixels on offer. A new, zero-layer structure means no more sub-menus to delve through, with all of the key features presented contextually.

Mercedes is using AI to power that, learning from the commonly-used features for each driver and making sure the Hyperscreen presents them as appropriate. A fingerprint sensor recognizes the driver and automatically switches between one of seven profiles, so that the customizations the EQS makes for you aren’t skewed by another person. As for those virtual buttons, a combination of actuators and pressure sensors promise to give the feel and response of physical controls.

Automatic Comfort Doors

Having someone hold the door for you is nice, but having the car open the door as you approach is even nicer. The EQS adds motors to all four of its doors, powering open when you tap the pop-out handles or, if you so prefer, when you get close to them.

When you’re about 20 feet away, the door handle slides out silently. At around five feet, the door unlocks and the driver’s door automatically swings open. They close again either when you tap a button inside, or when the driver puts their foot on the brake pedal. Alternatively, all four doors can be operated through the MBUX infotainment system.

As you’d expect, there are extra smarts built in for safety. Ultrasonic sensors for each door monitor the area around the EQS, as do cameras in the side mirrors, and proximity sensors. If you try to open the door when, say, a car is approaching the side of the EV, it will stop to avoid a collision. The same goes if the powered door could inadvertently hit a wall or another obstacle, with the system preventing them from getting damaged.

Automatic comfort doors will be an option on the EQS, but it’s hard to imagine not checking that particular box on the order form.

Energizing Nature

Mercedes launched its Energizing Comfort system back on the 2018 S-Class, blending relaxing soundtracks, ambient lighting, massage seats, and even fragrances for themed soothing programs like “Warmth” and “Vitality.” The EQS adds to that with three new Energizing Nature programs.

Called “Forest Glade,” “Sounds of the Sea,” and “Summer Rain,” the soundscapes were created with Emmy Award-winning sound recordist Gordon Hempton. Famous for his nature audio, Hempton’s soundscapes are combined with lighting and images, among other things.

In Forest Glade, for example, there’s birdsong, rustling leaves, and the HVAC system creates a gentle breeze as though you’re sitting in the woods. Warm music and a subtle fragrance are included, too.

For Sounds of the Sea, you’ll hear soft musical soundscapes mixed with wave and seagull sounds. The HVAC will blend warm and cool airflow, as though you’re sitting by the bay watching the waves.

Finally, Summer Rain takes the sound of raindrops on leaves as its core, blended with distant thunder and pattering rain, as more ambient music filters through. Each is based on Hempton’s “Quiet Planet” audio library, remixed by Mercedes’ sound design department into 10 minute long pieces.

Since you might not realize it’s time to wind down, the EQS’ Energizing Coach will automatically suggest when it’s time to run an Energizing Comfort program. If you’re wearing a Garmin wearable, or a Mercedes-Benz vivoactive 3 or Venu smartwatch, MBUX will even use metrics like personal stress levels or your recent sleep quality to make those recommendations even more timely. Or, you can simply say “Hey Mercedes, I’m tied,” and MBUX will automatically start the Vitality program.

EQS Power Nap

You might not expect Mercedes to bake in a feature that encourages you not to drive the 2022 EQS, but that’s just what the Power Nap feature does. It’s designed to provide a potent break during stressful days – or while you’re waiting for a DC fast charge to top the batteries up.

There are three phases to each nap – falling asleep, sleeping, and waking up – with the EQS automatically putting the seat into a relaxing recline, closing the side windows and the sunshades, dimming the ambient lighting, and even activating the air ionization system. Soothing sounds begin to play through the audio system, while a starry sky shows on the central display and, if the front passenger is snoozing too, on their front passenger Hyperscreen panel too.

When it’s time to wake up, there’s another soundscape designed to be more activating, paired with a fragrance. The seats will give a subtle massage and their ventilation will turn on as well. Finally, Mercedes says, the seat moves back into its usual position and the sunshade across the panoramic glass roof opens. Just in time to make the most of all those electrons.

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2021 Mercedes-AMG A35 4MATIC Review: Spark Joy

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It’s easy to get addicted to excess, especially when it comes to buying a new car. Bigger engines, bigger trucks, bigger power figures, and the inevitably bigger price tag to go along with it. Sliding sneakily in-between all that is the 2021 Mercedes-AMG A35 4MATIC, a comparative minnow in size, horsepower, and – in AMG terms, at least – price, but which lands even more of a punch because of it.

It helps that I already really like Mercedes-Benz A-Class. The smallest sedan in the automaker’s range looks the part, straddles a reasonable balance between luxury spec and affordability, and its 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine is unexpectedly well matched to its chassis and suspension.

In short it distills a lot of the appeal of “big” Mercedes into something a little more attainable and, for that matter, reminds us that just because a big chunk of car buyers are going with SUVs these days, that doesn’t mean sedans are passé. It also proved to be catnip to the tuners at Mercedes-AMG.

The result is the 2021 AMG A35 4MATIC, which just so happens to be the cheapest point of entry into AMG ownership. Sales kick off at $45,850 (plus $1,050 destination) though, as with any German automaker, the options list offers an easy way to send that spiraling upward. Even in “base” spec, though, you get a surprising amount.

It starts with an exterior makeover, cranked up even further with the $1,550 AMG Aerodynamics Package with its new front apron with large splitter and flics, bigger rear lip spoiler, and gloss black rear apron and diffuser blade. The $750 AMG Night Package adds different grille, splitter, and side panel inserts, swaps most of the exterior chrome trim for gloss-black, and dresses up the tailpipes to match.

The result is something that builds on the A-Series Sedan’s already handsome, shark-esque aesthetic with legitimate presence. It’s not outlandish, or excessive, but neither do you feel like you’ve been shortchanged by AMG.

At its heart is the 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4, as in the A220, but here it’s tuned for 302 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. That’s a healthy 114 hp and 74 lb-ft more than in the regular ‘Benz. It’s an “AMG-Enhanced” engine, not one of the division’s fancy hand-made monsters, but you’re looking at double the cylinders and $20k more before you find one of those in a C63 Sedan.

0-60 mph comes in 4.6 seconds, hitting the gas pedal delivering a brief moment of thought as the turbos consider, and then the A35 surging forward playfully. The steering feels meaty and nicely weighted. On the opposite side, the beefy steel brakes never felt anything less than over-specified. Dare I say I enjoyed it more than I did the significantly more expensive 2021 AMG GT 43 4-Door Coupe?

Excess on paper, or at the track, or even on the Autobahn, is compelling. Out in the real world, it can often just be a shortcut to speeding tickets or just plain losing your license. Like some of the more entertaining cars on the market, the A35’s appeal is intrinsically tied up with its relative limitations, and the fact that you can actually graze the redline without risking it getting impounded.

It barks and crackles, with shouty gurgles on downshifts in Sport and Sport+ mode. Probably some of that is “enhanced” for the cabin but honestly it all sounds great, and manages to miss that edge of fakery some other performance cars struggle with. The 7-speed Speedshift DCT gearbox is suitably named, with its fast changes and its hunger to hold lower ratios as long as possible. The metal paddles, though, feel equally pleasing and snap you up and down smoothly.

The downside is that Comfort mode is, well, not exceptionally comfortable. Even with $990 AMG Ride Control Sport Suspension the limits of adjustable dampers become apparent on longer drives, especially given AMG has clearly erred on the side of firmness rather than Mercedes-esque plush. It’s not outrageously stiff – though the Sport and Sport+ modes are admirably flat even in sharp cornering – but this is not so much a sedan of dual personality as it is a sporting car that will grudgingly restrain itself when so demanded.

Little exemplifies that quite like the DCT gearbox. Everything that makes it so pleasing when you’re driving urgently adds up to a more jerky experience as you slow to a halt. At one point I caught the telltale “oh look, he stalled it” pitying glance from the driver alongside me at the lights, as I juddered to a halt next to them.

Far smoother is MBUX, Mercedes’ generally excellent infotainment system. It gets twin 10.25-inch displays to play with as standard on the A35, crisp and bright, with a touchscreen, a trackpad, and a steering wheel touchpad to navigate. Or, you can bark out “Hey Mercedes” and ask for just about any feature or setting instead.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are supported – though they don’t expand to make the most of the whole infotainment display, which looks a little odd – and if you add the $1,295 Multimedia Package you get navigation with augmented reality arrows overlaid onto a live camera view of the road ahead. That’s shown on the center screen, mind; if you want an AR HUD you’ll need a new 2022 EQS.

The panoramic sunroof, power front seats, dual-zone climate control, blind-spot warnings, ambient lighting, and keyless start are all standard. So too, for better or worse, is the “AMG Design Trim” which adds shouty graphics across the passenger side of the dashboard. Combined with the color-changing light strips it leaves the cabin either playful or played-out, depending on your taste for such things.

There’s plenty of room in the front, and the dashboard feels a lot like Mercedes’ other sub-E-Class offerings. The shiny black plastic still isn’t my favorite, but the switchgear and trim generally feel solid. In the rear there’s okay legroom and headroom, while the 8.6 cu-ft trunk is also fine if nothing special. It feels right-sized for what it is, definitely more practical than a 2+2 coupe.

My review car had the $500 AMG Performance steering wheel in leather and faux-suede, $400 drive mode pods bolted onto that wheel, $460 for SiriusXM, $850 for the Burmester audio system, $500 for heated front seats, and $200 for wireless phone charging. The $800 Premium Package adds power folding side mirrors, keyless start, and auto-dimming mirrors.

Combined with the styling and performance extras, plus destination, it nudged the 2021 A35 up to $56,020. Not cheap by broad standards, no, but definitely competitive for a performance sedan with luxury branding. Were it my money, I’d probably leave off all but the sports suspension, nicer steering wheel, heated seats, and maybe the AMG Aero package and handsome $800 alloy wheels, and still be under the $52k point. Running costs needn’t be exorbitant either: the 25 mpg figure for EPA combined consumption isn’t too difficult to hit, as long as you resist the urge to play too much.

2021 Mercedes-AMG A35 4MATIC Review

I’m as much a sucker for a big, burbling V8 and a vast performance sedan as anyone else. Nonetheless, there’s something about the AMG A35 which, as Marie Kondo might say, just sparks joy. It feels, quite honestly, cheap for what you get and how it feels put together.

That’s cheap relatively speaking; cheap with all the usual provisos and qualifiers. Much in the same way, those with a family to consider or anybody needing a car that makes more than a vague, passing stab at comfort may find the A35 the round peg for their square hole. It makes compromises, they’re just more around practicality and cosseting than anything else.

I find it hard to pick fault with AMG’s decisions here. And honestly, if you need more of that slick Mercedes’ glide, the A220 4MATIC delivers. The 2021 AMG A35 4MATIC is all about fun, usable and shouty in equal measure, and the only excessive thing here is the size of my grin.

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A Ferrari EV is coming in 2025

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Ferrari will reveal its first all-electric car in 2025, the automaker has confirmed, putting to rest long standing will-they-or-won’t-they speculation about whether an EV really can find a place in the Italian supercar-maker’s range. The timeline for the new Ferrari EV was confirmed during its Annual General Meeting, held today.

“We are continuing to execute our electrification strategy in a highly disciplined way,” John Elkann, chairman and acting CEO at Ferrari, said in his address. “And our interpretation of application of these technologies both in motor sport and in road cars is a huge opportunity to bring the uniqueness and passion of Ferrari to new generations.”

That electrification strategy has already seen two hybrid production models hit the roads, though not doing away with the gas engine howl that the automaker is known for. Instead, a plug-in hybrid drivetrain was developed, combining a 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 with three electric motors. One motor is on the transmission, while each front wheel gets a motor apiece.

“As you would expect, we have started by setting the bar high,” Elkann explained. “In leveraging our know-how from motor racing, we have created the wonderful technical achievement and driving experience that are the SF90 Stradale and the SF90 Spider, our hybrid cars. They are in the very finest Ferrari tradition in both its styling and its performance.”

Unsurprisingly, as we’ve seen from other hybrid performance cars, there’s a whole lot to like about Ferrari’s PHEVs. Far from putting economy as the priority, they deliver 986 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque, with gas and electric working in tandem. They also mean the two SF90 variants have all-wheel drive.

Still, the 7.9 kWh lithium-ion battery driving the electric motors doesn’t exactly deliver impressive EV-only range. In fact, the cars are rated for about 16 miles of electric driving in their selectable eDrive mode. It’s something we’re expecting the Ferrari EV to address.

“We are also very excited about our first all-electric Ferrari that we plan to unveil in 2025 and you can be sure this will be everything you dream the engineers and designers at Maranello can imagine for such a landmark in our history,” Elkann teased. “So, we see this exciting decade of accelerating change as opening even more ways to push to new levels the boundaries of excellence and passion in everything we do.”

Exactly what Ferrari has in mind remains to be detailed. The automaker has already startled purists with confirmation that it plans an SUV, with the Ferrari Purosangue using a front-mid engine layout and, the company has insisted, delivering the fastest speed in its segment when it launches.

SUVs are an obvious target for automakers to go electric, given the typically larger size and the expectation of extra weight. Nonetheless, that’s not to say all-electric performance cars are in short supply. Tesla continues to insist that it’s building its new Roadster, while the Lotus Evija is among several other car companies’ electric wares coming over the next few years.

For Ferrari, the Purosangue will be unveiled in 2022, the automaker has said. Meanwhile, Elkann said at today’s AGM, there will be three new Ferrari models unveiled in 2021.

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