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Drones reshape public services in tech-savvy Seongnam

Equipped with a thermal imaging sensor, a drone flies above downtown Seongnam and records a thermal scan of the city to check for abnormalities in pipelines before they rupture. (Seongnam City)
Equipped with a thermal imaging sensor, a drone flies above downtown Seongnam and records a thermal scan of the city to check for abnormalities in pipelines before they rupture. (Seongnam City)
Seongnam, which is a satellite city of Seoul and the second-largest city in Korea’s most populous Gyeonggi Province, is home to leading technology startups that have played a major role in introducing technological innovation.

Pangyo Techno Valley in Seongnam houses companies that heavily invest in information technology and technology fusion. Seongnam Mayor Eun Soo-mi has made several changes that demonstrate how such technologies could be put to use to improve the lives of residents.

For the first time in the country in 2019, Seongnam introduced a drone inspection program for hot water pipelines.

A drone flies over areas where pipes deliver hot water to apartments and other facilities, and scans the ground with a thermal imaging sensor. The images are then analyzed to look for temperature anomalies that warrant closer examination.

The drone scanning has opened up areas previously inaccessible by personnel in a regular checkup. The city saw no pipeline ruptures after it began the drone inspection. The drones helped the city to create a real-time heat map of the city, allowing city officials to better deal with heat exhaustion during summer. 

Seongnam Mayor Eun Soo-mi speaks at a press conference in 2019. (Seongnam City)
Seongnam Mayor Eun Soo-mi speaks at a press conference in 2019. (Seongnam City)
Also for the first time in municipal history, Seongnam has secured a drone flight test site in the city where 82 percent of its area is marked as a no-fly zone because of the security protocol of Seoul Air Base, a VIP airfield in the city.

“We have 56 drone companies doing business in the city. Yet we haven’t been able to come up with a testing zone for their product until now,” Eun said at the memorandum signing ceremony the previous year with the Air Force, which agreed to cooperate with the city to build the zone. 

Seongnam was chosen as the country’s most desirable place to do business, according to a 2019 survey by the Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry on about 9,000 companies.

The mayor has also led the city itself to adapt to the “fourth industrial revolution.” Her efforts   culminated in the establishment of a big data center at City Hall.

The center collects and analyzes traffic information, so the city can offer better services to the disabled and elderly. The center aims to put together enough information to make the city a test bed for autonomous vehicles and driverless cars, which are expected to be on roads soon. 

Seongnam partners with Kakao to provide an electric bike-sharing program. (Seongnam City)
Seongnam partners with Kakao to provide an electric bike-sharing program. (Seongnam City)
Meanwhile, the city has proved that it is as much interested in merging existing technologies. Partnering with Korea’s leading internet firm Kakao, Seongnam introduced a year ago what it called the country’s first electric bike-sharing program, where users pay for and rent bikes via a mobile application.

Residents as well as the sagging bike industry welcomed the new scheme. Kakao said it plans to expand the bike-sharing program to cover more regions and meet greater demand.

In 2019, Seongnam also became the first city to enter into contract with Kakao to run its own taxi business. The selling point of this joint venture is that a nearby cab has to provide a ride to the client the mobile application matches it with, whereas in existing mobile services cab drivers can choose to reject customers. 

A panoramic view of Pangyo Techno Valley. (Seongnam City)
A panoramic view of Pangyo Techno Valley. (Seongnam City)
Since 2019, the city has been providing virtual reality gaming experiences to the less privileged with Kakao.

The information technology giant visited neighborhoods where disabled, elderly and low-wage earners lived, and offered them VR glasses to experience a variety of entertainment at what it called a “game bus” that the firm had designed to accommodate VR experiences.

“Gaming has power to connect people to people. This project will put Pangyo Techno Valley back in the limelight as well,” a city official said.

Mayor Eun, who is the only woman city chief in Gyeonggi Province, entered politics in 2012 when she was elected a National Assembly representative for the Democratic Party of Korea. She became the mayor in 2018.

She is currently standing trial for campaign finance violations. With her case pending at the Supreme Court, she will lose her office if she is found guilty and issued a fine of at least 1 million won ($840).

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)
and Park Joung-kyu (fob140@heraldcorp.com)
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