BANG SAEN and Hat Yai will be among the pioneers centres in Thailand for the development of “smart city” initiatives that promote the country’s advancement in strategic areas such as health and tourism, the environment and the establishment of trading hubs.
The push into smart cities fits with the government's Thailand 4.0 economic model that is aimed at promoting innovation and creative value as major economic drivers.
Narongchai Khunpluem, mayor of the Saensuk municipality that manages Bang Saen in Chon Buri province, said that the city had set a vision to become a trailblazer in the smart city programme, with leadership in security, tourism, health and energy.
According to Narongchai, there are about 20,000 households with 45,000 people in Bang Saen, with 6,000 – or 15 per cent of the total – aged 60 or above. The city also attracts 1.8 million tourists every year, but only less than 5 per cent are foreigners, mainly from Asia and Europe.
“The development of the smart city initiative in Bang Saen emerged from my own interest concerning care for the elderly people in the city,” Narongchai said.
“Many seniors have been left to stay alone at home when their children are working outside. They face a high risk of accidents, along with other injuries and some have disabilities.
“The government needs to spend a lot of money on the treatment of these elderly people.”
Narongchai said that he had discussions with with Burapha University's faculty of engineering and nursing that led to the development of a smart wristband for elderly people.
The wristband features a sophisticated sensor that can monitor daily activities of the seniors, including counting their steps and determining their sleep quality.
In the event of accidents or falls, the detector will send alerts to family members and health professionals for emergency assistance.
“In this pilot project, we will add a further 50 seniors to the initial group of 30 who are wearing the wristbands,” said Narongchai, adding that in the second phase starting in October, the health information of those wearing the wristbands would be contained on the device.
He said that under smart tourism initiative, a tourism mobile app would be developed at a cost of Bt500,000 to provide one-stop information to visitors, including on tourism destinations, hotels and restaurants.
“We are also working with Japan International Cooperation Agency on developing Bang Saen city to become a long-stay destination for seniors from Japan. Swedish people have also developed a Scandinavian Village in the city," said Narongchai.
He said the only obstacle in the way of the vision for the city is that, as the government had just launched the initiative, it had not yet entrusted the local authorities with the roles required.
He said a centralised control structure for the project would undermine the prospects for the smart city.
“We (the local authority) are with the local people in the society and are familiar with the problems faced by the city,” Narongchai said.
“Similar to how it is in developed countries, we should be empowered by the central government to solve such problems and further develop the city into what it should become and to ensure that the city will be sustainable in long term.”
Asst Prof Wannarat Suntiamorntut, adviser to Hat Yai City in Songkha and head of the Smart City Innovation Hub, Southern Region, said that the city had developed its own smart city master plan that focuses on three major areas: the environment, the economy and society.
She said that under the environment plank, Hat Yai would be developed as a green and low-carbon city. Any utilities and infrastructure being developed within the city would need to be environmentally friendly.
On the economic thrust, the city will develop eco-tourism that allows individual tourists to get direct experience with particular communities. Their spending will be distributed directly to the communities.
“For the smart city master plan, Hat Yai will be developed as a trading hub connecting surrounding provinces, such as Satun, Pattalung, Nakhon Si Thammarat, and the deep South provinces, as well as serving as a gateway to Malaysia and Singapore.
Wannarat said that under the focus on society, the city's people will be encouraged to be smarter, both in their mindsets and discipline.
Akkarit Sangpetch, manager of Smart City Innovation Hub Project, said the project had been initiated under the government's Thailand 4.0 initiative aimed at building up the grassroots communities and local economy as well as encouraging the use of innovation as a key driver to move forward the country's overall economy.
“We want to utilise valuable research projects created by universities that can actually be executed by local authorities in their own cities,” he said.
“We want to see any innovations that can be scaled up so that they can cater to the objective of developing the cities that are nice to live in, and which result in people having better lives and with higher productivity.”