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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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2021 Infiniti QX80 Review – Four-wheeled fratricide

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Sometimes buying smart involves hoops and hurdles, and other times it’s as easy as two dealerships probably occupying the same lot. So goes it for the 2021 Infiniti QX80, the automaker’s biggest and burliest SUV, making its pitch for seven or eight seat excellence but finding Nissan may have stolen its thunder along the way.

The QX80 has road presence, not least because of its scale. A full 17.5 feet long and over 6.5 feet wide, it’s unapologetically huge, draped in chrome and riding – in Premium Select 4WD trim – on 22-inch forged dark aluminum-alloy wheels. For the 2021 model year the line-up kicks off at $69,050 (plus $1,395 destination) for the QX80 Luxe; Premium Select adds all-wheel drive among other things, and starts at $76,450.

Under the vast hood is Infiniti’s familiar 5.6-liter V8 engine. It now produces a hefty 400 horsepower and 413 lb-ft of torque, funneled to all four wheels via a 7-speed automatic transmission and a two speed transfer case. It’ll tow up to 8,500 pounds, and do 0-60 mph in about six seconds.

You’ll want a straight road for that. Point the QX80 at the horizon and plant your right foot, and the beefy SUV hunkers down and surges forward. It doesn’t feel so much fast, as potent: I’ve never faced down a rhinoceros as it builds up to a gallop, but I suspect it’s a similar experience to the Infiniti’s acceleration.

At 5,706 pounds it weighs more than the average white rhino, however, and so corners are better taken at more sedate speeds. With the suspension dialed in at the soft end of the scale there’s no shortage of body roll if you try to hustle too rapidly, though the upshot is the sort of plush ride you used to have to drive a 70s Lincoln to achieve. Factor in “you only wanted to use one finger, right?” levels of power steering boost, and it’s clear this behemoth was made for cruising.

Within that niche, it does admirably. The V8 thrums in the background, but generally noise isolation keeps the irksome world outside at a long arm’s distance. Infiniti’s 7-speed slurs discreetly, but an eighth ratio for even quieter highway work wouldn’t go awry. Inside, meanwhile, there’s decent space for as many as eight, though usually Infiniti outfits the QX80 with seven seats. The second row is no compromise, with Premium Select spec getting captain’s chairs and a large center console between them.

The third row is a little smaller, but not so much that only the smallest kids need be slotted back there. Power adjustment helps balance their space with the trunk: there’s 16.6 cu-ft with all the seats up, 49.6 cu-ft with the third-row down, and a positively capacious 95.1 cu-ft with the third and second row down. The seats themselves are a little bulky, however, particularly the captain’s chairs.

Infiniti doesn’t stint on the leather, and there’s tri-zone climate control, heated – though not cooled – front seats, a power tailgate and power moonroof, remote start, and a heated steering wheel. A 360-degree camera, blind spot warnings and assistance, and lane departure warnings and detection are standard, too, as is Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and a Bose 13-speaker audio system. Adaptive cruise is standard, too.

That all looks good on a checklist, but the implementation leaves a lot to be desired. Infiniti’s InTouch Dual HD infotainment system looks dated and is frustrating to use. The graphics – particularly in the navigation system – are tired, even with a recent update, and the whole thing feels disjointed. Factor in the profusion of buttons on the steering wheel and center console, and it just doesn’t feel as modern and sophisticated as its rivals or, indeed, a SUV with a near-$80k sticker as tested.

Infiniti has a problem, then, and like in the best horror stories it’s coming from inside the house. Nissan’s Armada has always been the QX80’s more affordable sibling, and since the 2021 Armada revamp it’s no longer the value compromise but the sensible pick, period.

Exterior styling is subjective, but there’s no argument that Nissan’s upgrade to the Armada’s center console puts it leagues ahead of what the QX80 makes do with. A single 12.3-inch wide-aspect touchscreen handles the heavy-lifting, with a straightforward panel of knobs and buttons for the HVAC. It looks better, and feels faster and more intuitive than the Infiniti’s system, and the fact is that the rest of the cabin feels eight- or nine-tenths to what the QX80 offers in terms of materials and comfort.

A top-spec 2021 Armada Platinum 4×4 is $67,900 plus destination, however, or about $10k less than the starting price of this midrange 2021 QX80 Premium Select 4WD. Both share the same engine – and the same driving dynamics – and both are fairly thirsty, the Infiniti rated for 13 mpg in the city, 19 mpg on the highway, and 15 mpg combined. I got about that with my own mixed driving.

Perhaps there’s more cachet in putting a QX80 on your driveway than the Armada, but seldom has paying for a prestige badge resulted in such an obvious compromise. The new Armada has gone from nipping at Infiniti’s heels to overtaking it, and it’s tough to argue against the wise money getting spent on the Nissan.

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Porsche’s tease of 2021 Taycan good news is coming true

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Porsche teased us with the promise of more range from its 2021 Taycan all-electric sedan, and sure enough with the official figures starting to filter through from the EPA it’s good news for EV buyers. Signs that the Taycan – which launched last year to unexpectedly rough results from the US Environmental Protection Agency – was about to improve began circulating earlier this week.

That was alongside the launch of the most affordable version of the electric sedan, the 2021 Porsche Taycan single-motor RWD. Priced from around $81,250 with destination, it came with a list of the automaker’s expected range numbers for the 2021 refresh of the whole Taycan line.

At the time, the EPA hadn’t caught up with its own official ratings, but those have started to appear. Currently, the 2021 Taycan 4S with the Performance Battery and the Performance Battery Plus are listed. The former is new for the 2021 model year, with a 79 kW battery; the latter has a larger, 94 kWh battery, and was rated at 203 miles for the 2020 model year.

This time around, the 2021 Taycan 4S Performance is rated for 199 miles and 79 MPGe combined, and the 2021 Taycan 4S Performance Plus is rated for 227 miles and 77 MPGe. That means the EPA’s numbers are in-line with what Porsche was predicting.

Still to come are the official figures for the rest of the Taycan range. That includes the 2021 Taycan Turbo, which Porsche is expecting to come in at 212 miles, an 11 mile improvement on the previous model year. The 2021 Taycan Turbo S should do 201 miles, a nine mile improvement, if Porsche’s figures hold up.

It’s not been an easy ride for Porsche when it comes to its EV and the EPA. Expectations were high for the Taycan when it first launched, only for the US agency to deliver a much more pessimistic estimate on range than the size of the car’s battery might suggest. Porsche countered with its own, independent testing which delivered much healthier numbers, but it was a cloud over the car’s debut.

Not that it seems to have dampened too much enthusiasm for the EV. Porsche delivered more than 4,000 of the cars in the US in 2020, limited more by production delays during the pandemic than demand, the automaker says. That’s despite launching the most expensive configuration first, and only later following up with more attainable Taycan trims.

Yet to be rated by the EPA is the new 2021 Panamera 4S E-Hybrid or the 2021 Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid. The plug-in hybrid versions of the luxury sedan were priced up today, both packing a larger 17.9 kWh battery compared to the 14.1 kWh of the 2020 model year PHEV. Porsche says they should get between 31 and 35 miles of electric-only driving from a full battery, though that’s on the European WLTP test cycle rather than the typically more demanding EPA version.

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2021 Porsche Panamera pricing revealed – and a track record for 620hp Turbo S

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Porsche has confirmed pricing for the 2021 Panamera range, and if you’ve been wondering just what the new Panamera Turbo S can do with 620 horsepower on tap, a new lap record demonstrates just why the big sedan is still the daddy. Headed to US dealerships in spring 2021, the new model year for the Panamera spans both a plug-in hybrid and more potent versions like the Panamera GTS.

While outwardly the cars are familiar, with mild styling changes across the board, Porsche has made some more meaningful changes. The 2021 Panamera GTS gets a performance increase, for example, squeezing a 20 horsepower bump from its twin-turbo V8. Power is now 473 hp and 457 lb-ft of torque.

The entry-level 2021 Panamera switches to Porsche’s 2.9-liter twin-turbo, with 325 horsepower, and with pricing starting at $87,200 (plus $1,350 destination). The Turbo S sedan and Sport Turismo are faster, cutting 0-60 mph by a half-second, to 2.9 seconds. The Panamera Turbo S Executive – the more plush version of the sedan – takes 3.0 seconds.

If your tastes run to electric, meanwhile, the 2021 Panamera 4S E-Hybrid is new. As we found in our first drive of the PHEV, it pairs a 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 gas engine with an electric motor, for a total of 552 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque. That puts it unexpectedly close to the old Panamera Turbo, in fact, while a larger, 17.9 kWh battery means more pure-electric range.

The new 2021 Panamera Turbo S gives the sedan line-up a fresh flagship. It has a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8, good for 620 hp and 604 lb-ft of torque. The outgoing Panamera Turbo made 550 hp and 567 lb-ft.

To show just what it can do with that, Porsche took the new car to the Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta and put pro-driver Leh Keen behind the wheel. Together, they hit a 1 minute and 31.51 seconds lap of the 2.54 mile course. It makes it the fastest production sedan at the track.

It’s the same location that Porsche used to set a production EV lap time last year, taking the Taycan Turbo S electric sedan out and hitting a 1.33:88 minute record.

For the 2021 Panamera, all trims now get keyless entry, wireless Apple CarPlay and wireless phone charging as standard. EPA fuel economy numbers are still to be confirmed, with Porsche expecting them closer to the car’s arrival in dealerships.

Pricing for the 2021 Panamera 4 starts at $91,800 (plus destination), while the 2021 Panamera 4 E-Hybrid starts at $103,800. The 2021 Panamera 4S starts at $105,000, with the E-Hybrid version starting at $113,300. The 2021 Panamera GTS starts at $129,300, while the new 2021 Panamera Turbo S starts at $177,700. Finally, the 2021 Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid starts at $187,700.

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