Singapore is obsessed with trees. The island nation of 5.45 million people is home to around seven million trees – and manages many of them through a massive Internet of Things monitoring system.
Which is a very Singaporean thing to do, as another local obsession is to follow everything. The city-state’s goal of becoming a Smart Nation includes an increasingly comprehensive master plan that uses technology to manage, connect, and track as many aspects of life as possible.
Singapore’s National Parks Board (NParks) therefore tracks trees – around six million of them – once they reach a certain size, so arborists can manage them with an app.
NParks CEO Tan Chong Lee said The register the agency team regularly visits each of the city trees to check their stability, but the remote tree system – combined with other digital assessments – allows many other tree management tasks to be performed in comfort an air-conditioned office.
NParks employee accesses the TRS in the field – Click to enlarge
It’s a handy option to have, given that Singapore’s position near the equator means it remains in perpetual summer and daytime temperatures hover around 91°F (33°C). Unless it rains, which it does on average 167 days a year.
Singapore manages trees by creating a digital twin – capturing LiDAR point clouds and then applying artificial intelligence to geotag each plant.
“It actually removes the manual effort so our staff don’t have to travel up the hill to measure all the trees – that can be done automatically with this system,” Tan said. The register.
NParks then applies finite element models to the digital twin to help the team examine the overall stability of trees under different weather conditions (Singapore experiences severe tropical storms), taking into account factors such as tree architecture, wood strength and root space.
But the inspections don’t stop there. The organization uses satellite remote sensing for multispectral analysis to determine chlorophyll levels to ensure trees are always thriving. It also incorporates street-level cameras that provide panoramic images for remote visual checks, and attaches physical tilt sensors to more mature trees – to detect any sudden movement that could indicate risk.
Shaft tilt sensor – Click to enlarge
If NParks is alerted to any problems, staff can take action to improve a tree’s structure or perform other assessments to determine if the plant’s life has taken its course.
Drilling rig for measuring tree density and detecting decay in the field – Click to enlarge
The analysis of the high-tech tree took a long time to do. Tan said the process started 20 years ago with tree geotagging and progressed as new technologies became available. About five years ago, geotagging of trees began to be done by machine learning, thanks to a research project that was finally put into practice. This means tree inventory is now done automatically.
Five years ago, another significant event occurred in the NParks tree fleet. A 38-year-old woman died after being hit by a falling 270-year-old tembusu tree during a busy concert in the park with her family, baby in her arms. The incident remains etched in the memory of residents as concertgoers rushed to remove the large tree.
According to the testimony of a director of the Botanical Garden during the subsequent investigation, the tree had been inspected twice a year and no visual defects had been found. However, it had been raining with high winds for a week before the incident happened. The woman’s husband then sued NParks.
Death or injury from a falling tree is certainly at the extreme end of the negative outcomes associated with unhealthy or unmanaged trees. Rebellious trees can also destroy properties, block roads and overpasses, or obscure signs.
“We track the number of tree-related incidents,” Tan said. The register. He defined a tree incident as when a branch falls, or a tree trunk breaks or is uprooted.
These incidents, Tan said, have gone from 3,000 events a year at the turn of the century to less than five hundred a year today.
“There has been about an 85% decrease in the number of tree-related incidents,” Tan said. “And the way we do that is to continually improve our tree measurement process. And part of that is through the use of technology, like the 3D sensors that we mount on a tree to allow us to take mediation measures more preventively.”
Which is good news for Singaporeans looking for a safe gazebo. ®
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