Wireless Technologies

What tech does a city need in order to be classed as 'smart'?

This is a contributed piece by Gavin Wheeldon, CEO at Purple


Smart cities have the potential to transform our urban environments across the UK and around the world. The term ‘smart city’ is a way of highlighting how a location is utilising both its information and communication technologies (ICT) and the Internet of Things (IoT) securely to manage key assets which can include transport, waste, water and other community activities.

They are built on an infrastructure of cloud services, broadband networks, wireless sensors and mobile apps. They can be used to generate ‘smart’ services to an urban area. The adoption of disruptive technology is key to cities becoming ‘smart’ and delivering the services its occupants need.

The UK was the first country to develop a Smart Cities standard in 2014. This highlighted the focus on ‘enabling the processes by which the innovative use of technology and data, coupled with organisational change, can help deliver the diverse visions for future UK cities in more efficient, effective and sustainable ways’.

In real terms this means better running transport systems including parking schemes whereby drivers can be told via apps where the spaces are (this is already happening in central London) or smart metering for heating and lighting. Water resources can be redistributed to help food production or hospitals that can monitor their patients away from the ward.

Wi-Fi connection will play a pivotal role in connecting all of these dots. Without Wi-Fi connectivity between street lights, meters and locations won’t happen. It is the building block from which all of this is possible. In turn, Cloud-based services are playing a key role in delivering utilities such as smart energy management, parking and air pollution.

A case study which highlights the process perfectly is a recent announcement by Cisco, (of whom Purple is a preferred partner) which revealed the 10 cities that are using its cloud-based services to collect data from sensors used to monitor traffic, crowds, water and electrical systems.

Cisco said that the data collected from their IoT sensors enabled city agencies to ‘make operations more efficient, reduce costs and respond quicker to emergencies.’

With the information delivered in real-time cities such as Paris, Copenhagen and Dubrovnik, savings were also estimated to be delivered in terms of costings in reduction of energy and the ability to make more informed decisions. In the long-term they suggested digital billing discounts for drivers who took the less congested routes to work.

As mentioned the Internet of Things (IoT) will play a pivotal role on joining up these dots. The deployment of Beacons, which are the connecting technology, enables communication with devices to indicate locations, working with those sensors to add intelligence. And increased intelligence will be the ‘smart’ cities ultimate goal.

Thus the key to the success of smart cities is that data is pooled and shared across a variety of networks. The city of Bath is already doing this in a small, but significant way, by providing an app to wheelchair users which combines information regarding satellite mapping and planning data. The data gathered shows the user how they can most easily navigate their way around the city, avoiding inaccessible routes.

With the rise in sharing of data, there will always be issues of security. Real-time information from specially deployed sensors or those used for something else can only function if it is shared freely, allowing complex decisions to be analysed and acted upon. With this rapid growth and dependency on the technology US-based cyber-security firm Tripwire, noted that 78 per cent of the 200 state and local government IT professionals questioned said they expect a cyber-attack against smart city services to take place by the end of 2016.

It noted that: “Protecting public infrastructure from cyber and physical attacks is a key consideration in the evolution of smart city technologies. We need to build smart cities with cyber security in mind, not add it as an afterthought.”

Summing up with the idea that maybe smart cities were growing quicker than the security needed to protect them.

There is no stopping the increase of smart cities and nor should there be. Keeping up with the latest technological advancements is essential as urban living will only increase in size. In 2010 more than half the world’s populations lived in cities. By 2020 this figure will have risen to 75 percent. London is currently leading the charge in the UK with Manchester, Bristol, Milton Keynes and Leeds not far behind.

In last year’s (2016) Autumn Statement, the Chancellor Philip Hammond announced that he had instructed the National Infrastructure Commission to undertake how “new technology could enhance our infrastructure.” There is also a huge financial gain to be made from rapid investment.

A government report, The Smart City Market: Opportunities for the UK [PDF] estimated that the global smart city market would be worth around $408 billion in 2020 before reporting that if the UK industry took 10% of that market these activities would be worth an annual $40.8 billion to the UK economy.

Smart cities allow governments, local authorities and members of the public to fully embrace the best that technology has to offer. Smart cities are also sustainable cities, helping preserve valuable resources. And over time save them all money. At a time when economics really is the name of the game only investment in technology will help cities become as smart as they can possibly be.



Also read:
Overpriced smart cities vs. the death of the office
Nokia helps advance Bristol’s smart city test bed
Bristol’s data project could make it England’s SimCity


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