Smart cities are an attractive futuristic vision – but for them to truly work, they need to work for the people who live in them. Read more inside…
Zita Goldman looks at how a more user-centred approach can help correct the failings of the Disability Discrimination Act
To mark the 25th anniversary of the UK’s Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) – and the 10th anniversary of its successor, the Equality Act – citizens with physical disabilities were asked whether and how they had seen their mobility change in their lifetime. Having acknowledged that there has indeed been some progress, they talked about stairs they struggled to climb, restaurants they were denied access to, and streets they weren’t able to cross safely.
Despite the noble intentions of such progressive legislation, the perspective of the disabled themselves can often be overlooked in a variety of urban contexts. For example, although the Economist Intelligence Unit’s oft-cited Global Liveability Ranking includes infrastructure among its five main criteria, it reveals nothing about what cities have to offer the disabled. For that, you’ll need to look for separate rankings of inclusion and accessibility – and there is little overlap between the two in these, if at all.
Studying future visions of the smart city through materials promoting the UK smart city testbed, Milton Keynes, Professor Gillian Rose of the Smart Cities in the Making project also found evidence of people with disabilities being underrepresented. A few years ago, the Lutz Pathfinder Project, for example – which tests self-driving pods running on software developed at Oxford University in Milton Keynes – promoted its vehicles with pictures of “the young or younger middle aged, who most often appeared white and who had no visually identifiable disability.” And similar biases, maintains Professor Rose, are not unusual in this area.
Although the disabled may be unwittingly excluded from visions of slick smart city projects focusing on data capture and analysis, they are the top priority of many urban projects leveraging digital technology to help people with mobility challenges live an independent life.
The game-changing nature of these so called assistive smart technologies can’t be overstated. A mobile phone with optical character recognition (OCR) and text-to-speech (TTS) software, for example, can turn any sign in a city into an audio format for the visually impaired, or, if used the other way round, can translate any utterance into a printed message for those hard of hearing.
Meanwhile, in cities such as Chicago, or Warsaw, the winner of the Access City Award 2020, beacons – transmitters using Bluetooth technology – broadcast location-based information to users’ mobile phones. If connected to sensors, these beacons can assist people with disabilities not only in finding building entrances and bus stops, but also the end queues or an empty seat on a bus. Instructions coming from beacons can make purchases from vending machines available to all too.
Digital apps can also increase the efficiency of already existing schemes. Of note is community transport – a subscription service running lift-equipped vehicles on standard routes which they can deviate from to take vulnerable people door-to-door. Although the service has been around for decades, a better use of existing capacity can be achieved by implementing apps already used in taxis and ride-hailing services, that give passengers 10 to 15 minutes’ notice so they can get ready by the time the bus arrives at their door. This represents a tiny investment in mature technology with a considerable return.
Futureproofing innovation for accessibility
The fact that smart city projects aren’t naturally associated with inclusivity doesn’t mean that it always needs to remain that way. A few months ago, a mobility expert explained in a radio programme how – in an aging society – crossings with traffic lights will need to be converted into roundabouts to make driving life easier for the elderly suffering from a stiff neck. And there are many other ways of catering to the needs of senior citizens – a demographic where disabilities are at 46 per cent, compared with 15 per cent in younger age groups.
There are some promising signs – for example, suggesting that developers and manufacturers of autonomous vehicles, the futuristic poster child of smart cities, are already taking the idea of accessibility on board. In the US, autonomous pod manufacturer Local Motors’ Ollie, a self-driving shuttle bus, can have the necessary software installed to give special treatment to those in need. It visually recognises disabled passengers when picking them up, activates a ramp so they can board and can communicate in sign language if necessary. Waymo’s self-driving vehicles, meanwhile, have also been designed with the hard of hearing in mind, with large screens displaying text versions of what the digital drive attendant says.
In the UK, the government is directly involved in similar plans. Under the tenure of then-minister of future mobility Jesse Norman, the Department of Transport published its Future of mobility: urban strategy, launched in March 2019 paper, declaring that innovations must be accessible by design in order to empower independent travel. This is in line with the 2018 Inclusive Transport Strategy, which stated that advances in technology should provide opportunities for all.
As Norman set out, “new technologies including self-driving vehicles and the increased use of mobile apps have the potential to revolutionise everyday journeys for people with mobility issues […] therefore, the needs of older people, and those with visible or hidden disabilities, must be at the heart of all new modes of transport.” To lend clout to the policy, projects not in line with these guidelines may be denied funding.
Research and advisory company Gartner’s estimates that by 2023, 30 per cent of smart city projects will have been discontinued. However, if business and government can co-operate to turn these projects into the means to also achieve public good, Gartner’s projections may yet prove to be wrong.
Connected communities such as Bleutech Park Las Vegas are a tech-fan’s dream – but without system integration, smart is a non-starter.
From the futurist visions of tech giants, entrepreneurs and technology integrators, smart cities are evolving far beyond sensor-outfitted light poles along sidewalks. Instead, their blueprints depict whole communities whose systems and services ebb and flow on waves of real-time data streams. Smart city plans now reach the upper echelons of digital living, and Bleutech Park Las Vegas (BTP) illustrates this well.
BTP is a $7.5 billion development that bills itself as the world’s first entirely sustainable, self-contained ecosystem. Built on digital platforms, BTP will use communication technologies to integrate and umpire critical systems such as water, energy and transportation. The resulting synergies – as well as a cache of cool apps, devices and technologies – will form a sustainable environment with the swagger of vintage Vegas.
Like all smart cities, data is the lifeblood of BTP. And this means that system integration is vital to build a secure, citizen-centric community that is flexible, sustainable and livable.
Viva (smart) Las Vegas
The future of digital infrastructure is taking shape in the Las Vegas Valley. BTP promises to be “the first city in the world to boast a digital revolution in motion, redefining the infrastructure industry sector.” Designed as an “eco-entertainment park,” BTP will feature a mixed-use, sustainable living environment comprised of net-zero buildings, including approximately 2,500 ultra-luxury residences, 1,500 workforce housing units, tech-smart offices, retail, hotels and casinos, and a state-of-the-art entertainment tower that will redefine the skyline as it soars 1,200 feet above the street.
The 210-acre development is scheduled to break ground in March 2021 and should take six to eight years to develop. To achieve its goal of building a fully integrated, self-contained ecosystem, BTP will be developed from the ground up, with all smart infrastructure built entirely from scratch.
As a hallmark of smart cities, BTP’s underlying connected systems will share an awareness of emerging situations and react by finding alternative paths and best actions across distributed devices and systems. BTP is working with several strategic partners – including Black & Veatch – to incorporate digital infrastructure into the community and ensure proper integration. Without this, smart is a non-starter.
Take transportation, for example. Like other smart cities, BTP is planning to incorporate autonomous vehicles (AVs) as public transportation shuttles to leapfrog traffic. Autonomous shuttles put many smart technologies into play, including road sensors, LiDAR, radar, 5G and edge data centres. These devices and apps create situational awareness through vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications to ensure safe and efficient transport. With several tie-ins, network design and deployment require an end-to-end approach to interconnect each technology seamlessly, ensure secure network performance, and support the demand for substantial bandwidth, rapid response times and low latency.
The same integration is essential to create sustainable energy systems that expand and contract alongside need. BTP’s energy system includes 33 “supertrees” that will tower 50 to 100 feet above the walkways. Teeming with vertically grown desert plants and foliage, this unique biome will double as a solar photovoltaic system to generate power. In fact, photovoltaic glass will be standard in all structures, turning entire building exteriors into single solar panels. The park will harness power from the kinetic energy generated by footfall, and the main plaza will be constructed from transparent concrete with solar panels underneath, providing wireless charging for electric vehicles (EVs). Smart cities can also produce Green Hydrogen onsite to power fuel cell AVs, cars, buses or trucks.
Smart cities often include distributed energy resources (DER) – such as EVs, hydrogen technology, energy storage, and solar – to offset energy costs and achieve a net-zero carbon footprint. As smart cities and sustainability initiatives multiply, DER will scale, and could cause significant ripple effects across the electric distribution grid due to intermittency and load balancing. This emphasises the need to plan smart cities with broader community and regional systems in mind. Developers, municipalities and utilities should align goals and projects across sectors because disparate systems become interdependent when they connect under internet of things (IoT) and smart city configurations.
The currency of livability
Everyone is thrilled by cool technologies, and smart cities such as BTP are a tech-fan’s dream. The intrigue around self-healing concrete that uses water-activated bacteria to fill cracks, or the allure of hologram-driven AR and VR workspaces, for example, are the magic beans of smart cities, the elements from which excitement sprouts.
But smart cities aren’t just a collection of digital technologies, and the hardware and software must weave a social fabric in which people want to live, work and play. To this end, data is the quality-of-life currency in smart cities. Flexible telecommunications and analytics platforms collect, organise and convey real-time data that inform apps in BTP and other smart cities. This insight guides system adaptation to reflect the changing needs and desires of workers, visitors and residents.
Data from wearables, for example, can help residents avoid Covid-19 exposure, and biometrics can help workers avoid ergonomic stresses related to heavy lifting or repetition. Wearables, sensors, and an open data platform can integrate with intelligent building management to capture distributed environmental sensing and user wellbeing status to inform and adapt heating, cooling and ventilation.
Relying on connectivity places data privacy and cyber-security as top priorities. Digital communications platforms are designed to establish cyber-security protections and standards, which means security is embedded within apps and interconnected devices to protect data and ensure privacy as data is transferred across the system. Securing information at its source and creating a cyber-secure culture helps put smart city populations at ease. It also keeps their secure data input flowing to a central analytics platform, which is what helps makes smart cities personalised and livable.
Flexible, future-proofed smart cities
It won’t be long before success is measured by how well a city applies digital innovation to build sustainable, future-proofed essential systems such as energy, water and transportation. But how can a city future-proof technologies that are still evolving? It can focus on the communications systems that support them, such as fibre.
Fibre is future-proof. Once fibre is in place, the 4G or 5G network can reach exponentially higher speeds, and support more sophisticated apps and technologies, with simple radio equipment additions. Secure, converged wired and wireless networks can scale over time to support a fusion of old and new digital apps and processes such as wearables, big data, artificial intelligence, robotics and sensor-enabled intelligence, as well as anything Elon Musk dreams up.
This is when the magic happens – when systems, apps, technologies and people become a synchronised entity. At this nexus, small scale adjustments, such as room temperature, are made automatically, while on the large scale, smart city systems continually adapt to changing circumstances – from disruptive technologies and evolving business models to global pandemics. This is the ultimate future-proofing: resilience and stability no matter what the future brings. Like holding pocket aces, the smart community is going to dominate, and may even win big.
Accelerate the future with Black & Veatch. For more information visit bv.com/connectedcommunities
by Steph Stoppenhagen, Director of Strategy & Innovation, Black & Veatch
How video technology is a key part of making smart cities safe and efficient places to live
Cities are in constant flux, with authorities expected to develop them to provide a high quality of life for their citizens. At the same time, those authorities must be prepared for future trends such as urbanisation. Cities are using technology and data to analyse, prioritise, make decisions and use resources as efficiently as possible. However, long-term trends and priorities can quickly change based on unpredictable situations and events. A pandemic, a new head of state or a natural disaster might change how citizens act and behave, and the authorities rely on tools that are flexible and adaptable to handle situations that arise.
Technology will always be a key enabler for cities in their quest to become smart. Of the many technologies deployed in cities, surveillance systems play a key role, acting as the eyes and ears of city authorities across all aspects of urban life.
Smarter cities with flexible, scalable solutions
Safety is one of the key responsibilities of every city – feeling safe and secure is one of the main rights of any citizen, but it’s not the only factor to consider when ensuring delivery of effective smart city projects. With new challenges, we must move away from the traditional operating model where city departments work in silos, focusing only on one area of operation, such as traffic or health.
An Axis network camera, for example, might be primarily used for video surveillance to improve public safety, but it can also be a tool for gathering data and statistics for traffic management and environmental monitoring.
Axis builds its technology on open standards, ensuring our solutions are flexible, scalable and straightforward to integrate. A single Axis device can, with its open technology, break down data silos and support several use cases and goals of multiple city authorities. Through the open platform, ACAP, our vast network of partners can develop applications for Axis’s network cameras that allow cities across the world to meet their needs.
Advanced features support city officials
Cities are some of the more complex environments for camera deployment, particularly when it comes to obtaining actionable, good quality images. Objects and people in motion, changing light and weather conditions can all present a real challenge for obtaining reliable data.
Axis has developed technologies to specifically address these challenges in city-wide deployments. Some examples are the Axis Lightfinder and Wide Dynamic Range technology, which manage difficult low light or backlight conditions, as well as Axis Electronic Image Stabilization that minimises the effects from vibration and shaking from wind or traffic. These features ensure that images captured are consistently high quality, irrespective of the environment.
Product and image quality are crucial for securing a future-proof solution. A camera that was deployed for a basic surveillance or analytic use-case might be required in future to handle applications such as crowd management with people constantly in motion.
Surveillance cameras are becoming increasingly intelligent sensors. Particularly when using deep learning-based edge analytics – now available in specific Axis cameras – the power of video surveillance is multiplied. Such analytics can potentially “foresee” where critical or violent situations are about to arise, triggering messages or warnings via network audio speakers to defuse situations. Alongside these, security personnel or law enforcement can be alerted to monitor the situation and intervene if necessary.
Improved urban mobility today, safer cities tomorrow
Even in the absence of specific incidents, overcrowding brings its own challenges in city environments. On transportation or in public spaces, crowd management is an important priority for safety – particularly with the need for increased social distancing. Unfortunately, we’re beginning to understand that these will be ongoing requirements rather than a short-term need.
Axis network video solutions, combined with analytics, can help monitor the movement and distance between people in a specific area, for example, a public festival. Should an area get overcrowded or guidance be ignored, the system generates warnings and statistics for further action.
Overcrowding isn’t just limited to people. The effective management of traffic is necessary – especially in densely populated cities. Flexible video surveillance can play a central role in helping to optimise traffic flows and increase safety, especially when the number or type of vehicles on the roads changes.
Surveillance technology in combination with video analytics using artificial intelligence (AI) or deep learning, can not only help monitor the roads, but provides a more predictive view. This helps traffic management centres (TMCs) plan and manage traffic in real time, aiding officials in preventing bottlenecks and subsequent congestion. Advanced AI software can also be added to improve the distinction between vehicles, people and objects, to detect potential incidents or accident risk. This becomes even more important if there is an increase in cyclists and pedestrians.
Illegal parking can add to the congestion within cities, causing at best inconvenience and at worst impeding the movement of emergency services vehicles. Cameras which monitor the flow of traffic can also be used to identify free parking lots and vehicles in restricted areas. Connected horn speakers added to the system support by playing live or pre-recorded announcements by helping to keep these areas clear.
City mobility must change according to citizens’ needs
Transportation needs in smart cities are shifting. Citizens want greener, safer and more innovative infrastructure to improve liveability. The current pandemic, for example, has led to many people avoiding public transport to reduce the risk of infection. The result has been a rapid shift to walking and cycling, leading cities such as Paris and Munich to change aspects of street layouts. For example, cycle lanes were introduced on busy streets to mitigate the risks of cyclists, cars, vans and trucks mixing in the same space.
Analysing data from video-based traffic management solutions can help authorities spot these trends faster, allowing for authorities to implement safety measures, divert traffic or change road layouts. Temporary short-term demands can lead to sustained changes long-term, benefiting both citizens and the environment.
Supporting the sustainable cities of tomorrow
Sustainability will always be a key priority and will touch every process within a city. Any solution implemented must use products from a sustainable supply chain, that are built with environmentally friendly materials. Operators, distributors and end-customers should also ensure to deploy high quality products, as these are likely to last longer. Ultimately, the need for future repair and replacement will be reduced.
The open architecture of Axis solutions within cities also contributes to sustainability goals, allowing authorities to combine products from different partners and various hardware and sensors. This flexibility supports an approach which has a long-term view, as legacy systems can be upgraded instead of being replaced, and investments can be made in the knowledge that they support future enhancement.
Getting smart cities ready for the future
Connected video surveillance systems are already used in numerous ways to increase safety and security in cities. But it’s crucial to understand the value of investing in advanced, open systems that allow for devices, sensors and software to be added to the network. This will make it easy for solutions to be optimised to address both existing and new use-cases. Axis remains committed to developing innovative solutions that will put smart cities in an optimal position to evolve and address future demands and challenges – unexpected or otherwise.
For more information visit: www.axis.com
By Andreas Göransson, Global Segment Marketing Manager, Smart Cities, Axis Communications
“This virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities and this virus may never go away.” – WHO executive director Mike Ryan, May 13
Vaccine or not, we have to come to terms with the reality that COVID-19 requires us to rethink how we live. And that includes the idea of smart cities that use advanced technologies to serve citizens. This has become critical in a time of pandemic.
Smart city solutions have already proved handy for curbing the contagion. Examples include:
But as we prepare to move beyond this crisis, cities need to design systems that are prepared to handle the next pandemic. Better still, they will reduce the chances of another one.
Issues of trust are central
In a world of egalitarian governments and ethical corporations, the solution to a coronavirus-like pandemic would be simple: a complete individual-level track and trace system. It would use geolocation data and CCTV image recognition, complemented by remote biometric sensors. While some such governments and corporations do exist, putting so much information in the hands of a few, without airtight privacy controls, could lay the foundations of an Orwellian world.
Our research on smart city challenges suggests a robust solution should be a mix of protocols and norms covering technology, processes and people. To avoid the perils of individual-level monitoring systems, we need to focus on how to leverage technology to modify voluntary citizen behaviour.
This is not a trivial challenge. Desired behaviours that maximise societal benefit may not align with individual preferences in the short run. In part, this could be due to misplaced beliefs or misunderstanding of the long-term consequences.
As an example, despite the rapid spread of COVID-19 in the US, many states have had public protests against lockdowns. A serious proportion of polled Americans believe this pandemic is a hoax, or that its threat is being exaggerated for political reasons.
Design systems that build trust
The first step in modifying people’s behaviour to align with the greater good is to design a system that builds trust between the citizens and the city. Providing citizens with timely and credible information about important issues and busting falsehoods goes a long way in creating trust. It helps people to understand which behaviours are safe and acceptable, and why this is for the benefit of the society and their own long-term interest.
In Singapore, the government has very effectively used social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Telegram to regularly share COVID-19 information with citizens.
Densely populated cities in countries like India face extra challenges due to vast disparities in education and the many languages used. Smart city initiatives have emerged there to seamlessly provide citizens with information in their local language via a smartphone app. These include an AI-based myth-busting chatbot.
Guard against misuse of data
Effective smart city solutions require citizens to volunteer data. For example, keeping citizens updated with real-time information about crowding in a public space depends on collecting individual location data in that space.
Individual-level data is also useful to co-ordinate responses during emergencies. Contact tracing, for instance, has emerged as an essential tool in slowing the contagion.
Technology-based smart city initiatives can enable the collection, analysis and reporting of such data. But misuse of data erodes trust, which dissuades citizens from voluntarily sharing their data.
City planners need to think about how they can balance the effectiveness of tech-based solutions with citizens’ privacy concerns. Independent third-party auditing of solutions can help ease these concerns. The MIT Technology Review’s audit report on contact-tracing apps is one example during this pandemic.
It is also important to create robust data governance policies. These can help foster trust and encourage voluntary sharing of data by citizens.
Using several case studies, the consulting firm PwC has proposed a seven-layer framework for data governance. It describes balancing privacy concerns of citizens and efficacy of smart city initiatives as the “key to realising smart city potential”.
As we emerge from this pandemic, we will need to think carefully about the data governance policies we should implement. It’s important for city officials to learn from early adopters.
While these important issues coming out of smart city design involve our behaviour as citizens, modifying behaviour isn’t enough in itself. Civic leaders also need to rethink the design of our city systems to support citizens in areas like public transport, emergency response, recreational facilities and so on. Active collaboration between city planners, tech firms and citizens will be crucial in orchestrating our future cities and hence our lives.
The author acknowledges suggestions from Aarti Gumaledar, Director of Emergentech Advisors Ltd.
Jim Ker, vice chair of communications from the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s Yorkshire board and John Paul Simpson, chair of the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s North West board, look at the crucial role marketers will play in this brave new world
As smart cities become a reality, lightspeed connectivity and the huge amounts of data they provide are providing marketers with numerous opportunities as well as a new set of challenges.
For many, the very idea of “smart technology” still invokes mild feelings of suspicion. It means an invasion of privacy and targeted ads stalking every step of our online journey; a constant harvesting of our personal data for the financial gain of big business.
But as smart technology expands beyond the confines of our homes, where smart meters and smart thermostats are now commonplace, marketers are uniquely placed to communicate how smart cities can leverage technology to improve the quality of everyday services and our quality of life.
Smart city culture in the North of England
Contrary to what people may think, smart city culture is not restricted to the world’s metropolitan capitals.
Take Yorkshire as an example. Known for its beautiful countryside, the county has a growing population currently greater than that of Scotland, and supports a variety of sectors such as retail, hospitality and tourism.
Yorkshire also has a bustling digital entrepreneurial scene that is rapidly growing. Leeds in particular is an up-and-coming technology hub, which received a massive £108.8 million of tech investment in 2018 – a new northern record.
It is therefore in the interest of Yorkshire businesses to understand smart cities and the opportunities available to help reduce pollution, develop multi-modal mobility and improve resource management.
In the North West, Manchester has recently opened the UK’s first CYCLOPS (cycle optimised protected signals) junction. The unique design separates pedestrians and cyclists from traffic, reducing the possibility of collisions or conflict. Installed as part of the Manchester to Chorlton cycling and walking route, the first-of-its-kind-junction will act as a blueprint for future junctions as part of Greater Manchester’s Bee Network, an 1,800-mile joined-up walking and cycling network, connecting every community across the city-region.
“All these systems, however, need beneficial use cases to justify their investments.”
The role of marketing
Marketing contributes to this by developing, explaining, communicating and narrating the expected efficiencies or collective benefits and how these technologies can aid or fit into everyday life.
Marketers are uniquely placed to interpret the complex and often disruptive psychological, emotive, sociological and cultural exchanges that these technologies are likely to uncover.
Dr Fell adds: “It’s important to explain to the public how smart city systems will conserve important elements - be it routines, privacy, anonymity or helping expand their ability to explore new competencies, interactions, and relationships.”
The result of smart city living will be a huge accumulation of data on every resident, providing insight into their routines, preferences, shopping habits and general behaviour.
Assuming that devices cover an entire city, messages could be delivered to potential customers anywhere, at any time, via any medium that has a display.
It means marketers can use the IoT to directly target people with content tailored to anything from their mood or recent purchases to their travel route.
All this gives rise to a number of strategic and ethical questions. For example, who owns the data collected? Will private companies that install smart city devices recoup the expense by selling the data they collect?
What are the data implications?
There will also inevitably be consumer concerns around privacy. Marketers will have to decide where to draw the line when it comes to using data and targeted advertising.
The introduction of smart cities will make it feasible for the marketing community to create incredibly targeted campaigns that meet people’s needs perfectly. However, effort must be taken to ensure consumer privacy is not violated.
Trust is essential in a smart city environment. Brands will quickly alienate customers if residents of a smart city don’t feel their information is safe or they constantly receive unsolicited approaches. Marketers will need to think carefully about how they target customers and offer “opt-out” systems, or limit the number of messages each person receives.
Gavin Sherratt, managing director at Mashbo, points out: “The use of data and smart cities is an important pathway to future innovation and improved living and business. Trust is an important matter, but with a lot of smart city projects, this data would be anonymous and just based around your persona. And we have to remember this is data that most of us give away on a daily basis and has no end-benefit apart from adverts following us around on our digital footprint.
“But the benefits of a smart city far outweigh having adverts for trainers tracking our every move. It’s about making your commute quicker and our places of work and retail more environmentally friendly. It brings efficiency and the environment to the forefront of planning and innovation. We believe that better data will deliver better results and that data should be used to deliver intelligent marketing insights that lead to data driven marketing campaigns.”
In essence, smart city technology and the data collected from it must be used purposefully to make better decisions, and to this end marketers have a vital role to play.
Beckoning a smart future
As technology becomes an increasing part of our lives, the clamour to live in urban areas with clean air, tidy streets and safer roads all connected efficiently by digitally infrastructure will continue to grow. This month alone smart city operator Connexin announced that it had raised an initial commitment of up to £80 million to fund future smart projects. Where smart cities were considered a dream for many, today we are seeing them become reality.
Take Manchester’s Triangulum project, one of 14 European Smart Cities and Communities Lighthouse Projects (SCC1). Manchester City Council led a consortium of Siemens, the University of Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University to deliver a project to transform the Oxford Road corridor to become one of the largest knowledge-driven, low-carbon districts in Europe. The project features a cloud-based energy management platform which functions as a virtual power plant, managing renewable systems and buildings around the city such as the Central Library and parts of the Manchester City Council and University of Manchester buildings. This has reduced the area’s dependence on the grid saving Manchester approximately 57,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions per annum – the equivalent of 12,000 cars. If that’s not smart, we don’t know what is.
ICT, open source, big data, IoT and collaboration will be the talking points of the smart cities of the future
Cities are the drivers of global economic growth, responsible for generating more than 80 per cent of worldwide GDP. But they also consume more than two-thirds of the world’s energy and account for around 75 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. To make matters worse, extreme climatic events, such as floods, droughts, heat waves, storms and hurricanes, have a huge and costly impact on city infrastructure, housing and public health.
In this context, cities need to become far more sustainable, smart and resilient if they are to match the pace of climate change and technological development. The term “sustainable city” has surfaced as a result of rapid urbanisation, the diffusion of sustainability and the rise of information and communications technology (ICT). In the transition towards sustainable development, ICT will play a big role – and one of the most common applications of ICT in urban environments is the internet of things (IoT) and related big data applications.
In the September edition of this report, FIWARE community members Red Hat and the Future City Foundation enlightened us with practical examples of how they are, with their IoT-centred solutions, guiding the cities of Amersfoort (Netherlands), Barcelona (Spain), Gothenburg (Sweden) and Montevideo (Uruguay) to further embrace the smart city concept, based on FIWARE technology. This time around, we'll bring you a perspective from Greece and Spain to better exemplify how cities can boost growth, deliver more efficient services and create more livable environments where both citizens and businesses can thrive, with the help of the growing FIWARE community.
Traditional city models have failed. Short-term and on-the-fly approaches to urban development result in chaotic environments and frustrated citizens, and are clearly not the definition of a sustainable city
By Spiros Mazarakis, Business Development Executive, Uni Systems, Greece
In an era filled with smart devices and digitally literate citizens, the future is unveiled through new patterns of communication and living, as people increasingly require faster, more advanced services and open access to information. Municipalities should adjust their operations and work hard to implement solutions that will allow their continuous growth in an efficient and cost-effective manner, toward a sustainable future. The transformation of cities into smart ecosystems should be the top priority for municipalities.
Focusing on the operational features of cities, digital back-office systems are becoming of utmost importance. After all, no matter how innovative and well designed the solutions are, if the necessary structure is not in place, there will be fundamental issues when executing them.
How are smart cities efficiently using available resources?
Based on its Local Government Information Management Systems and FIWARE’s open source framework, Uni Systems has created a number of solutions under one intelligent and integrated platform, the City2Live Urban Platform, actively contributing to the creation of the cities of the future.
City2Live offers customizable solutions for all available resources needed for the operation of Smart Cities: Eco, Mobility, Water, Fleet, Parking and Waste let smart cities monitor all of the vital aspects that differentiate them from the traditional, monolithic models of the past. By capitalising on the recently established Pleiades IoT Innovation Cluster, as well as its strategic partnership with FIWARE, the City2Live Urban Platform can empower data collection and the management and operations of smart city ecosystems, enabling municipalities to manage their flow of operations in all fundamental areas.
With both existing tools and newly developed interfaces, municipalities can create network connections among digital applications, gather valuable large-scale data, and allow the real-time monitoring of smart city operations. The value of the collected and analysed data will be immense for municipalities that are ready to take on the challenge and improve their decision-making processes toward a more efficient and cost-effective assignment of resources, with the ultimate goal of strengthening the operation and the administration of their ecosystem.
For more information on how Uni Systems is helping municipalities to deliver their digital vision, offer better and higher quality services, and accommodate its citizens, click here.
By Francisco Salas, Managing Director, Promálaga, Spain
When you arrive in Málaga you are captivated by its stunning coastline, the surrounding mountains and the friendliness of the locals. But something else stands out too. Despite being one of Europe’s oldest cities, the Málaga of today exudes modernity and digital innovation, and has, in recent years, moved away from simply being the gateway to the Costa del Sol.
Revamped and revitalised, Málaga is home to the Andalusia Technology Park (PTA), which includes more than 650 companies and 20,000 employees, developing solutions for energy efficiency, urban services, communications and tourism. It is no wonder the city has been awarded the title of 2020 European Capital of Smart Tourism, alongside Gothenburg.
These achievements did not happen overnight. They are the result of the city’s ambitious, smart and innovative vision, whose overall strategy is aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Málaga’s forward-looking approach was spearheaded by the 2009 Málaga Smart City project and expanded by the city’s Innovation Strategic Plan 2018-2022, which encourages the creation of solutions on citizen participation, e-government and open data projects, focused on turning it into a more innovative, inclusive, technological and smart city.
A “Powered by FIWARE” city
Committed to providing useful data sets to its citizens, Málaga has initiated its own open data environment, which generates information sources, specifically data, which are open to the public and, above all, can be downloaded by any company, professional individual or citizen, and used for any purpose. As a FIWARE user, the city encourages solution providers to develop applications – in an easy and replicable manner – on top of the FIWARE platform, integrate city data into it, and hence, boost the local economy.
Similarly, with CityGO, a “Powered by FIWARE” transportation planner and intelligent mobility solution developed by Atos (a FIWARE Platinum member), locals and visitors can find the best route and means of transport from A to Z, based on real-time information. From inputs on trains, buses, and the nearest public bike rental station, to available parking spaces, everything is managed in real time. For instance, the solution’s dashboard monitors the flow of citizens within the city and supports Málaga’s decision-makers in making educated decisions about its transport planning.
The city also houses FIWARE Zone – one of FIWARE’s global iHubs – which provides training sessions, mentorship, and webinars on smart digital solutions for the local SME and start-up scene, as well as facilitating start-ups to connect with research institutions, accelerators, and private and public companies.
Find out more about what is transforming Málaga into a city of the future.
How robust regulation is the key to ensuring smart cities work for their residents
Over the past 20 years, digital transformation has shaped our daily activity beyond recognition. The platform economy has delivered a range of new services for people, from easy home deliveries, to on-your-doorstep mobility options and hassle-free city trips. And today, in the midst of a global pandemic, many of us find we can hold meetings, events and even conduct office jobs from the relative comfort of our own homes.
For cities, meanwhile, digital transformation brings other benefits, such as greater revenues from tourism. In many ways, city administrations are drivers of this transformation: cities power innovation ecosystems, invest in tech start-ups, support digital skills development and provide digitalised public services.
Nonetheless, digital transformation creates many challenges for cities. This is partly because existing legislation was not designed to take the new business activities of the platform economy into account, leaving gaps where current regulations are unable to rein in some of the negative impacts of digital services on public life.
What can cities do to protect local retail against unfair competition from global online retail platforms? How can the right to housing be ensured if short-term rental platforms do not comply with the rules that govern the real estate market? And what can be done to protect the rights of platform workers?
In places where the freedom for digital services does not serve the public interest, current European legislation makes it very difficult for city administrators to take effective measures against globally operating companies.
Matching our online and offline worlds
Cities, as the level of government closest to citizens, are only too keenly aware that digital transformation can create both new opportunities but also new layers of inequalities, unless the policies guiding the process are user-centric and citizen-focused.
Indeed, in a recent joint statement by 22 European cities, city representatives pointed out that cities welcome tourism as an important source of income and employment for many people, but the responsible rental of private homes can only be done if the necessary regulation is in place.
Central to this debate is enabling the flow of data between public authorities and businesses, without which the enforcement of regulations, taxation and health and safety rules cannot be applied.
More precise data – on, for instance, short-term holiday rental (STHR) – would enable city administrations to levy taxes and better serve the interests of residents, who should be their primary concern. Additionally, data can also be used to create better public policy and better services.
For example, the consequences of illegal housing rentals can include reducing the stock of houses intended for residential use, the increase of nuisances (such as noise disturbance) in city districts, and sometimes breaching other areas of public safety such as how many people can stay in one location. With access to the right data, city authorities can start to work with these companies to address these issues.
Yet the status of collaborative economy companies is often ambiguous, given that their evolution has occurred since the EU’s e-Commerce Directive was first introduced, which provides the current grounding for what are considered “information society services”.
Moreover, there is often little incentive for collaborative economy platforms to do anything about illegal activity occurring through their services. With this in mind, we need better ways for cities to flag up illegal activity, as well as placing more responsibility on service providers, such as requiring platform economy businesses to take down illegal goods and services from their sites.
In this endeavour cities are natural allies of European policymakers working towards a more digitalised society which puts people first. Cities are ready and able to work with the European Commission and European Parliament to ensure an effective EU framework that protects and empowers people and businesses, while ensuring data and new technologies are used to deliver better public policy.
Let’s ensure that what is illegal offline is also illegal online.
Eurocities wants to make cities places where everyone can enjoy a good quality of life, is able to move around safely, access quality and inclusive public services and benefit from a healthy environment. We do this by networking almost 200 larger European cities, which together represent some 130 million people across 39 countries, and by gathering evidence of how policy making impacts on people to inspire other cities and EU decision makers.
By Anna Lisa Boni, Secretary General, Eurocities
Focused on sustainability, air pollution monitoring and open standards, the stories below showcase how the FIWARE Community is benefiting from the freedom and adaptability of open tech smart applications
Cities themselves may survive shocks and stresses, but their citizens and organisations often need a helping hand to get by. There are many paths to the ideal resilient city: dynamic economy models that generate sustainable growth; innovative and collaborative approaches taken by open and transparent government; inclusive and cohesive societies; solid digital infrastructures, and the intelligent use of natural resources. But we clearly have a long way to go before we arrive there.
Before they can create impactful strategies on such fronts, cities need better data and the right skills and manpower, and great freedom to implement smart technologies. To that end, cities need to collaborate with private and non-profit sectors to deliver their digital vision. Partnering up with strong institutional structures is of the essence and non-profits can play a key role in helping cities to get their digital strategy on the right track. The FIWARE Community is one of these entities making it happen. With more than 380 international members and relevant partners behind its mission, the community focuses on driving the development of a sustainable ecosystem around open source, standards-based, innovation-driven technologies on a global scale.
One may wonder why standards are important. Common standards for application programming interfaces (APIs) and data models are at the heart of platforms and digital infrastructures, enabling the interoperability and portability of solutions. In order to successfully make it into the market today, new smart services and solutions must be able to securely communicate with other services and devices, traversing a multitude of infrastructures and systems. This way, solution providers benefit from knowing that their solutions can be connected with other applications or pieces of software – already developed and widely available – or that they can replicate them for multiple customers with low adaptation costs.
Effective evidence-based action plans are crucial to mitigate climate change, access investment funds and guarantee regulatory compliance
By Andrea Gómez, CMO, and Antonio Jara, CEO of HOPU, Spain
HOPU empowers urban innovation with disruptive technologies such as AI for environmental assessment and IoT devices, to monitor impact, sustainability and the environment. HOPU’s service simplifies available data in a unique indicator that contextualises, models and forecasts the environment to support better informed decision-making, based on cities’ specific characteristics, management team and citizens.
Current use cases include a high range of indicators related to pollen families and levels, pollution sources detection (industry, traffic, etc), the impact of low emission zones (LEZ), compliance with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, low urban security zones control, and urban health monitoring in specific areas, such as schools, to inform urban planners about harmful situations for their young population.
A breeze of fresher air
Following the FIWARE open source approach, HOPU integrates datasets from different data sources including water consumption (utilities), air quality, mobility and urban health, to understand and contextualise the effectiveness of every action. HOPU manufactures IoT-based environmental monitoring devices, which allow the monitoring of air pollution, noise and the flow/density of people. The devices measure gases – such as NO, NO2, H2S, SO2, CO, CO2, and O3 – in specific areas and in real-time, detect toxic substances and particulate matter (PM) to identify specific nanoparticles such as dust, pollens, pollutants and viruses.
Thanks to its sophisticated laboratory – which calibrates and certifies every device before selling it – HOPU offers high-quality data-based solutions. The accuracy of the sensor measurements is improved in the laboratory by machine learning techniques, fatigue compensation and reducing the effort of cross-sensitivity. In addition, blockchain is used for continuous assessment of the maintenance to provide data with over a 90 per cent accuracy rate.
HOPU offers a reliable and robust solution that supports the monitoring of environmental emissions, and a preventive detection of anomalies. HOPU engages urban planners and decision-makers in the processes to ensure that deployments are understandable, intuitive and usable, making relevant city-driven solutions available for the entire ecosystem.
With that purpose in mind, HOPU has so far worked with different cities to create services of indicators based on their specific needs. Currently, HOPU is working in more than 30 cities such as La Palma, Spain, on a pollen service for asthmatic and allergic people, and Madrid, Spain, on a flagship project monitoring nanoparticle pollution.
The main value and differentiation are the innovative services to support urban design. For example, in Cartagena, Spain, HOPU offers a service focused on the use of smart spot data on air quality, weather and people flow for an efficient management of green zones. This successful deployment has been recognised by Le Monde and the European Commission. In Helsinki, Finland, HOPU has used AI and visualisation tools to detect and classify the main sources of pollution for data-driven and more efficient decision-making. Discover more about HOPU here.
To address the many EU Green Deal challenges, we need to continue to do more intelligent analysis, which will lead to the collection of big data sets. This often also stimulates the deployment of IoT for the provision of key data
By Philippe Cousin, President and Founder, and Franck Le Gall, CEO and CTO, EGM, France
We see a growing tendency to collect and accumulate data, with data holders proud to showcase their data sets. However, the bad news is that it will be hard to exploit the true power of data if no emphasis is placed on the following:
• The validity of such data
• Its contextualisation with time and geospatial information
• Its relation to other data sets, through semantic and cross-domain data models, which offer the potential to turn data into a powerful asset
Driving the materialisation of global, open standards, based on open source
It was ETSI, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute and a strategic partner of FIWARE, that once stated “data without context are meaningless”, and we at EGM could not agree more. To empower data owners, EGM, in line with the FIWARE open source model, has developed an intelligent and context-aware data broker, Stellio. The product is based on the context information management standard NGSI-LD as specified within the Industry Specification Group (ISG CIM).
The NGSI-LD standard provides a cross-domain data model built upon semantic web (linked data) principles as well as a query-subscribe API allowing different services to dynamically exchange contextualised information. It supports centralised, federated, and distributed architecture to fit any deployment plan within or across organisations.
Every sensor measurement, every entry in a database, every tweet sent, and every video viewed has its own context. Taken out of context, each piece of information is almost useless. And software or agents looking for useful information may only find it if the context is available – that is, published with the data. A contextual information management system (CIM) serves as a clearing house for publishing, discovering, monitoring and maintaining data, according to contexts relevant to intelligent applications.
The ISG CIM specifies open standards for the contextual information management layer that accesses and updates information from different sources (IoT networks, information systems and so on), thus making it possible to implement contextual behaviour for intelligent applications and extend its interoperability to provide openness and avoid vendor lock-in to users.
NGSI-LD: an industrial standard to ensure large-scale sustainability and interoperability
Recent months have witnessed a rapid increase in interest from the global community to adopt the NGSI-LD specification, which is the evolution of the NGSI context API at the center of FIWARE’s open source platform. The Stellio broker is under active deployment and use by several partners and customers. Its latest deployments revolve around optimising water consumption in sport field irrigation, reducing food waste within connected school canteens, optimising facilities' energy management, and so on. Next steps are underway within the projects aqua3S and Fiware4Water to build digital twins of water facilities (i.e. water network), dynamically connected within the NGSI-LD infrastructure.
Smart City Expo World Congress (Barcelona) discusses the role cities play in solving the greatest global challenges.
With increasing environmental footprints, growing urban populations and resource consumption forecasts, there is a strong argument that sustainable cities may be the best and possibly only opportunity to tackle today’s critical challenges.
Smart solutions can be a key part of this. The smart city has turned from concept to reality, as cities and companies move from small proof-of-concept projects to smart implementation at scale. New governance models and new approaches to equity and circular economies have also emerged, along with IoT, artificial intelligence, drones, self-driving cars and new forms of micromobility. New ways of processing and distributing information, such as blockchain and IOTA, have also come into the picture. Technology is and will be the backbone of smart cities, but the approach has shifted to a more complex vision, where the citizen is at the centre of everything, and the decision-making process is no longer top-down.
Cities have become socio-economic and political actors on both national and global stages, and have a major impact on the development of nations. Six hundred top cities represent 60 per cent of worldwide GDP, while the world expects to have 43 megacities (cities with more than 10 million people) by 2029. So we need to keep on exploring new paths, reinventing places and scenarios, drawing new maps of our imagination, as we know there’s no one-size-fits-all formula and we still have the opportunity to make things happen just the way we need them to be.
Smart City Expo World Congress (SCEWC) is the annual meeting point for worldwide cities. For three days, Barcelona becomes the global hub where the city of tomorrow is realised. Leaders from the most innovative cities and organisations come together to reveal the latest innovations addressing the biggest challenges cities face today: digital disruption, sustainability, clean and efficient mobility, open governance, and inclusive and collaborative solutions.
At SCEWC, industry players, policy makers, entrepreneurs and academia from around the globe join forces to empower cities, open new paths for international collaboration, and collectivise urban innovation. And this was also the case for the exceptional 2020 online edition, the Smart City Live, a global digital hub where cities met to move forward. You can access all the VOD content at Tomorrow.City, the new content platform about cities. More info about the 2021 edition at www.smartcityexpo.com.
Urban infrastructure – bridges, roads, railways, pipelines, power transmission towers and so on – must be inspected regularly to operate safely. Imagine if we used advanced technologies available to us, such as wireless sensors, mobile apps and machine learning, to remotely inspect and maintain this infrastructure. This could eliminate the need for regular daily inspections, save time and money for engineers and asset owners, and reduce the risks of working on job sites.
Everyone has experience of working with smart devices such as mobile phones and iPads. Using these technologies to perform technical and engineering work is a game changer. We have been developing “digital twins” – 3D-visualisation of in-service infrastructure – to monitor infrastructure performance under various service conditions and make intelligent maintenance decisions.
The digital model is the twin of the real infrastructure. Wireless sensors on the structure transfer performance data to our computer. We can see the performance of the infrastructure in real time online.
This is extremely useful for engineers who need to regularly monitor the performance of infrastructure. They make critical maintenance decisions about which structural elements need to be repaired or replaced, and when this must be done, to ensure the infrastructure is safe.
How are digital twins created?
Digital twins are essentially a digital replica or a virtual model of a process, product or service. The concept of creating digital twins is still relatively new for civil and infrastructure engineers.
In the Netherlands, digital twins are being developed for operation at the Port of Rotterdam. A team at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology is working on a digital model of an operating crane.
To develop digital twins for intelligent infrastructure maintenance we must integrate a variety of disciplines. These include 3D visualisation, wireless technology, structural engineering and Internet of Things. The output is a digital model of the physical infrastructure, which can be seen on a PC, tablet or mobile phone.
Looking at their smart device at home or in the office, an engineer can observe all deformations, deflections, cracks or even stresses due to various loads (such as traffic or wind). The intelligent digital twin model can also suggest appropriate maintenance decisions.
Cost benefits add up to billions
We have more than 7,000 bridges in Victoria alone that need regular inspection. Add all the pipelines, highways, railways and so on, and that’s a huge maintenance program.
Trillions of dollars are spent each year on inspecting, monitoring and maintaining infrastructure around the world. The non-profit Volcker Alliance recently warned repair costs of deferred maintenance of the United States’ ageing infrastructure could exceed US$1 trillion, or 5% of the country’s gross domestic product. For local roads across Australia, maintenance and renewal costs between 2010 and 2024 total an estimated A$45 billion.
Digitalising the way we look after our infrastructure can make the process more accurate and less costly in the long term than traditional labour-intensive practices. Using a digital twin is expected to produce cost savings of 20-30%. Given the huge costs of monitoring infrastructure – in the US, bridge inspections alone cost US$1.35 billion a year – the potential savings are huge.
There are also several indirect benefits for the nation.
The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the importance of reducing crowds in public places. Considering the huge workload on transport infrastructure like highways, buses and rail, any concept that can reduce daily travel is important. Digitalising infrastructure management and maintenance can help by reducing the need for inspectors and technicians to travel to projects.
Reduced travel, by reducing emissions, benefits public health and the environment.
What is being done in Australia?
In Australia, researchers from the School of Engineering at RMIT are developing digital twins for use in intelligent maintenance of almost all infrastructure across the nation.
Our current focus is on bridge and port infrastructure. However, soon we’ll be able to use the developed models for railways, water and wastewater pipelines, LNG, oil and gas pipelines, offshore platforms, wind turbines and power transmission towers.
RMIT researchers have also developed a cloud-hosted asset management platform, Central Asset Management System (CAMS). It uses discrete condition ratings given to components of infrastructure through inspections. We can use these ratings to develop predictive models to aid proactive planning and decision-making on civil infrastructure.
The system is being used commercially for property assets. Many public-private partnership clients are using the system for life-cycle modelling of buildings.
Proofs of concept have been completed for bridges, drainage and local council infrastructure. Funded research is in progress for road pavements and rail.
We are working on integrating live monitoring of infrastructure to progress the platform towards creation of digital twins. The system is available for trial by any interested infrastructure owners who wish to contact us.
This work represents a significant step in developing smart cities. It will help create a safer and healthier community.
Mojtaba Mahmoodian, Senior Lecturer, School of Engineering, RMIT University; Kevin Zhang, Professor of Construction Engineering and Management, Associate Dean, School of Engineering, RMIT University, and Sujeeva Setunge, Professor of Civil Engineering and Deputy Dean, Research and Innovation, School of Engineering, RMIT University