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Tech blooms in Parks

last updated 03 November 2017
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Technology plays a keep role in helping NParks to manage Singapore's greenery.

At A Glance: 

• Cutting-edge tech helps NParks to manage 1.5 million trees, over 350 parks and 2,300 hectares of public greenery. 

• A mobile map app makes it a walk in the park to inspect trees and park facilities. 

• NParks also uses LiDAR (light detection and ranging) technology for tree surveys, and Finite Element Modelling to computationally simulate how trees react to strong winds.

From geo-tags and lasers to mathematical models and mobile apps, technology is being harnessed in creative ways by the National Parks Board (NParks) as it handles the mammoth task of managing some 1.5 million trees, more than 350 parks and 2,300 hectares of public greenery across Singapore.

For a start, every tree that NParks manages is geo-tagged and given an ID number.  “With so much greenery to maintain and care for, it is important that the trees around us are properly recorded in an inventory system as well as given the necessary maintenance and inspection works,” said Mr Francis Lim, Chief Information Officer, NParks.

The geo-tag and ID allows each tree to be easily identified on site and helps ensure that all the relevant inspection and maintenance records of the tree are captured.

NParks App

A mobile map application allows NParks field officers to access information they need for their daily tree inspections.

In mid-2015, NParks introduced a mobile map application that allows field officers to access information they need for their daily tree inspections and the management of trees and park facilities. 

Using the app on their tablets, tree inspection officers can access information on the locations which are scheduled for inspection, retrieve the relevant locality map and enter the inspection details as they examine each tree on site. The tablet’s camera comes in handy to capture and attach geo-tagged photos to the relevant inspection data.

Information captured on the field is synchronised with NPark’s operations system and Geospatial Information System (GIS) database. When there is no network connectivity, the mobile application allows officers to continue performing all operations on the map and automatically synchronises the updates to NParks main operation system once connectivity resumes.

“The mobile application enhances NParks capabilities in GIS data collection on trees and park facilities and allows for important inspection records to be updated with ease, which has increased productivity and helped the officers complete their work faster and with more accuracy,” said Mr Lim. 

“It also facilitates geospatial data sharing with other government agencies in Singapore via GeoSpace - the inter-agency collaborative platform hosted by Singapore Land Authority.”

Trees and Tech

NParks also uses LiDAR, which is deployed in a collaboration with the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) to carry out tree surveys. The technology enables distance to be measured by illuminating a target with a laser and analysing the reflected light. 

“By using the LiDAR technology, we are able to estimate the height of the trees as well as the number of trees within a section of a wooded area, helping to improve both accuracy and efficiency of these surveys,” explained Mr Lim. 

NParks is also collaborating with research institutes to improve its understanding of the impact of wind forces on trees by using a Finite Element Model. 

As Mr Lim explained, a Finite Element Model is used in applied engineering to build a mathematical model of a complex physical structure (in this case, a tree) and subdivide it into disjoint components of simpler geometry called finite elements. The assembled responses of the collection of elements (under different forces) can be used to construct the response of the larger structure.

Finite Element Models can be constructed using software  to model the dynamic behaviour of trees during strong wind gusts. This helps NParks to better understand how trees react to strong wind gusts as it refines its tree risk management programme.

For example, a study on the wind tunnel effects on trees, enabled by 3D modelling and the Finite Element Model, has the potential to significantly enhance NParks’ tree care regime and tree safety.

Research has revealed that the oscillation of branches and leaves during strong wind can help to dissipate a significant amount of wind energy from being transmitted to the trunk of the tree. “This data helps to guide us on the amount of tree pruning we carry out,” said Mr Lim. 

OneService
NParks staff

Technology helps NParks officers in the field to realise the vision of making Singapore a true City in a Garden.

Since June 2015, NParks has also assumed the role of central agency for public greenery maintenance, starting with grass cutting in areas under the management of SLA, PUB and the Housing & Development Board (HDB). 

The centralisation exercise will see various government agencies handing over around 2,300 ha of land to NParks’ Municipal Landscapes Division for the maintenance of its greenery.

As part of efforts to improve its greenery management processes, NParks has incorporated its geospatial capabilities into the OneService mobile app which allows citizens to geo-tag incident location when reporting municipal issues. 

This allows government agencies to identify the location of the incident more accurately and thus attend to the feedback more quickly and effectively. 

NParks is also leveraging technology to increase the efficiency of its grass cutting processes. For example, the increased usage of rotary mowers lessens the manpower needed to cut grass. In other moves aimed at enhancing productivity, it is also looking out for other innovative solutions to track the grass cutting process remotely.

Going forward, NParks will continue to harness existing technologies such as LiDAR to capture and present data accurately and synchronously. It will also tap emerging technologies in data analytics and modelling tools to support its operations and transform the way it undertakes park planning, design and development, as well as park and tree management.

“We hope to bring about paradigm shifts in these processes so as to achieve better outcomes to realise our vision of making Singapore a City in a Garden,” said Mr Lim. 



Main image of Bukit Batok Park from the Public Domain.


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