Tech Vision: Technology and improving the response to floods

  • How technology can be used to prevent or mitigate flood damage and devastation
  • Proactive collaboration can prepare us better for these challenges in the future

Tech Vision: Technology and improving the response to floodsWE are living in fascinating times. The pace of innovation, giving rise to new disruptive technologies, and its impact on markets and people’s lives, is extraordinary.
This is being driven by three key trends: 1) The internet and its impact on globalisation; 2) The open approach to collaborative innovation adopted by corporations and research institutions; and 3) The convergence between different technologies to yield powerful new solutions.

Frost & Sullivan’s research publication, Tech Vision, identifies the top 50 technologies that are likely to have the highest impact in the coming years.
Our choice of technologies was based on a listing and analysis of specific parameters, including:

  • Intellectual property activity
  • Total global funding
  • Market potential
  • Impact on major megatrends
  • The adoption potential
  • Application across industries/ applications

In addition, we normalised the results with a year of impact assessment. This was done to ensure that only such technologies as were likely to have a significant impact in the near term were shortlisted.
The results have been fascinating.
These top 50 technologies collectively have had about 175,000 intellectual property patents registered between them in the last three years alone. They have attracted a cumulative funding of US$120 billion in the same period.
What is even more compelling is looking at the applications that have arisen from the convergence of these technologies.
Over the new few months, my colleagues and I will attempt to review the application of these top 50 technologies against some of the challenges we face in our day-to-day life.
In this first column, we thought to focus on the widespread damage to life and property that was caused by the floods in Malaysia in late December 2014.
We posed to ourselves these questions: How could the top three or four disruptive technologies have been deployed to solve this challenge? How could they have been applied prior to or in the aftermath of the floods, to prevent or mitigate damage and devastation?
The top four technologies we picked for this week are Sensor Fusion, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), Predictive Data and Context Aware Computing.

  • Sensor fusion: Sensor fusion refers to a combination of sensor data from different and disparate sources, with an aim of providing a more meaningful and relevant set of information. It involves merging or combining data from multiple sources, using filtering algorithms to take advantage of each sensor’s benefits, and provides improved information compared with that obtained from individual sensors.
  • Context-aware computing: This the latest IT trend where the software has the capability to examine and react to specific changes in context. It can sense the user state and its surroundings, and can adapt to behaviours in the environment. This computing technology blends information collected from different sources such as mobile, digital and social.
  • Predictive data analytics: This refers to the method of extracting useful information from huge data sets to identify significant patters and predict futurist trends and outcomes. It leverages data mining, statistical modelling and machine learning techniques to analyse data and make probabilistic predictions.
  • UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles): UAVs, or ‘drones’ as they are popularly known, have found widespread deployment in military applications and are now beginning to find applications in commercial environments. (The UAV is the result of the coming together of many technologies primarily in the area of sensors).
Tech Vision: Technology and improving the response to floods

The interplay between these technologies can yield very powerful solutions to help address the challenges faced because of the flooding. Some potential scenarios include:

  • Unmanned devices carrying of a host of sensors are able to be manoeuvred through water and adjoining land to collect information on a real time basis. This can help in predicting the potential of a flood. Sensors can also be deployed as the flood situation becomes imminent to measure direction, speed and other properties of the water.
  • Data from multiple sensors can be used to monitor water level, and indicate potential danger in flood-prone water bodies. Advanced algorithms help combine the data efficiently so as to improve accuracy of predicting potential water overflow.
  • Identifying the probability of failure of the embankment, based on an analysis of its strength, and designing contingency plans prior to the flood, is possible through implementation of predictive analytics that analyse geophysical data. This leverages data mining, statistical modelling, and machine learning techniques to provide insights for better management of resources.
  • Context-aware computing will enable the identification of changes in contextual information with regard to weather conditions, tides, and water levels in real-time. The ability to integrate this data with information from social networks can be a game changer. Not only can we crowdsource information from the citizens, we can crowdsource and deliver relief services.  Contextual information adds significant value and enables more informed decision-making prior to the disaster.
  • Multiple drones working in tandem enabled by technology of sensor fusion networks will be able to deliver search and rescue operations in a far more efficient way than humans, in adverse weather conditions.

We have seen many organisations reach out and support the Malaysian Government after the flood situation in the delivery of relief services.
A similar level of collaboration in a proactive manner between government, research institutions, private sector organisations and citizens can help us be better prepared for these challenges in the future.

Tech Vision: Technology and improving the response to floods

Organisations such as Mimos (Malaysia’s national R&D centre) and US tech giant Intel are leading several initiatives in the areas of sensors and the Internet of Things. This could be an ideal platform to develop cutting-edge solutions which would find eventual commercial applications in everyday life.
Manoj Menon is a senior partner and Asia Pacific managing director at Frost & Sullivan.
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