Exploring the progress of smart city programs across Singapore, Dubai, London, Atlanta and Goyang
In this article...
- From energy efficiency to transportation to healthcare, Internet of Things (IoT) is making a big impact on cities around the world
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The idea of an “intelligent” city, filled with millions of sensors that connect citizens and local government to each other anywhere and instantly, seems like science fiction. But the smart cities of the future are being designed and built now—with dozens of urban centers around the world leveraging technology to rebuild themselves for the future.
Smart cities promise more efficient, safer, more livable urban areas despite the demands placed on them by increasing congestion and pressures on resources.
“By making transport systems and energy use more efficient and responsive, IoT could save lives.”
The notion behind them focuses on the rapidly evolving technologies of IoT, with connected cars, buildings and street lamps becoming the nervous system for cities of the future.
The benefits of smart cities are real. The IoT will allow everything from transport systems to energy use to become more efficient and responsive, which could even save lives.
Singapore: comfort for a packed population
Singapore’s Smart Nation program has been described as the most ambitious data-collecting project in history. Sensors in buildings, homes and cars are poised to revolutionize everything in the city state from travel to healthcare—an increasingly important focus for a population that has seen the average age leap from 34 to 40 in the past six years.
Increased insights from data will empower the city’s leaders to make the right choices. Unveiled by prime minister Lee Hsien Loong in 2014, Smart Nation includes a digital render of the city known as Virtual Singapore—like a turbo-charged live map—where officials and the public can see what is happening in their city, where and in real time.
Singapore is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, and Smart Nation technology —in particular Virtual Singapore—could take some of the pressure off its services. National University Hospital is piloting a remote healthcare program where patients use smart wearables so that doctors can monitor their conditions without leaving the hospital, or the patient leaving their home.
Vincent Lim, general manager, public sector, Hewlett Packard Enterprise Asia Pacific and Japan, says, “Smart Nation technologies will help ensure that people receive healthcare at the most cost-optimum place, based on the services required and the costs associated with different healthcare providers—from acute care hospitals and rehabilitative community hospitals to general practitioners, and even at home.”
The Smart Nation approach could be rolled out to almost any area of the city’s work. Everything from bins to home appliances could be “connected” and visible—enabling waste companies to remove rubbish when bins are full, and devices to switch off when not in use. All of Singapore’s one million vehicles will soon be connected to a system that will automate tolls. In the future, it could even prevent traffic jams and accidents.
Locals are excited about the project, according to Mr. Lim. “Historically, Singaporeans have been early and eager technology adopters—one 2015 study found that Singapore has the highest rate of smartphone penetration in the world. As such, people in Singapore are very open and engaged in the idea of a smart nation.”
The possibilities for smart cities are endless, says Suparno Banerjee, leader of Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s Future Cities initiative.
“Smart cities will mean better connection as a citizen. We will be connected to the services that shape our day-to-day lives,” he says. “A range of technologies have reached a certain level of maturity, and this enables us to do things much better.”
“These factors have come together—and around them we have formed an ecosystem of technology and service providers.” There are several fundamental pillars on which this ecosystem will be built, though two stand out to Banerjee. “The first is the mobility spectrum—the fact that everyone is connected via smartphones, allowing us to share information via digital media to millions of people. The second is Big Data.”
Dubai: the integrated smart city
By 2020, Dubai may be the most technically advanced city in the world, bringing together data from dozens of government agencies and private commerce to improve the lives of both citizens and visitors.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum describes it as a project to create “the happiest city on Earth” using Big Data.
The ambitious project aims to pioneer IT systems that will be the bedrock of other smart-city projects. Government road projects have already shown off hi-tech street lights and pedestrian-detecting cameras that can track passers-by according to number, age group and gender.
Chris Johnson, Hewlett Packard Enterprise managing director for the Middle East, Mediterranean and Africa region, says, “This is the future of human communities: cities with technology at the center. Dubai is the first platform that starts to tie together all the data and services from local governments."
"Most smart city projects are on quite a specific subject. For instance, smart energy usage,” he says. “The Sheikh and the Dubai government are able to tie together a lot of the functions of local government. An example might be a car crash on the freeway.”
“Systems could take the car registration plates, make contact with the emergency services and make medical records available to them. They could coordinate medical services, fire, ambulance and the police. Meanwhile, the cameras could also contact the car insurance company and make the video records available to them. It could also automate redirecting traffic while these other activities are happening.”
Networked sensors will shape every aspect of life in Dubai, from parking to healthcare. Visitors to Dubai will also be guided through their holidays by smartphone apps that connect them directly to local services.
Johnson says, “The Sheikh genuinely wants to make people happy, and in many ways Dubai has been designed to work very well as a business hub, with the best hotels and the best restaurants. There’s an expectation from citizens that everything is very convenient.”
“One use of technology is to create the ultimate shopping experience. We are working with commercial entities as well as government to enhance the tourist experience, and there will be a smartphone app that will capture tourists as they enter, delivering information and services.”
Big Data becomes even more necessary as urban populations continue to grow. Our urban centers face an influx of billions of new inhabitants in the coming years (the UN predicts that 66 percent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050), placing huge strain on everything from transport networks and healthcare systems to policing and energy supplies. This applies to rapidly expanding cities such as Guangzhou in China as well as long-established mega-cities such as New York, Tokyo and London.
London: the challenge of transport
London’s population is growing at its fastest rate in its 2,000-year history, with the population in inner London predicted to hit 10 million by 2030. This huge growth is going to mean extra demand for healthcare and energy, and an additional 600,000 daily passengers on London’s already stretched transport system. On top of that, London is currently breaking World Health Organization limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter, which means 10,000 lives prematurely lost every year and an annual cost of £3.7 billion, according to Greenpeace.
But London is already pioneering the technologies to cope, and many observers are hopeful that taking the lead in this sector will add to Britain’s economy. Indeed, analysis from SAS suggests that analytics and the Internet of Things will add £322 billion to the U.K. economy by 2020.
In Greenwich, a pilot project is investigating driverless cars, with members of the public invited to ride them as part of the £8 million GATEway project.
Elsewhere in the borough, Greenwich is pioneering several other smart-city technologies as part of the Sharing Cities project. Technologies under test include smart parking spaces that work with an app to help drivers find somewhere to park quickly. Shared electric bikes are being trialed to see if they help locals shift from using private cars. The projects are being conducted with public opinion at the center, and feedback collected online.
Suparno Banerjee, leader of Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s Future Cities initiative, says, “The Mayor of London is going to push that power, and deliver projects with more choice, faster feedback, more transparency and more co-design. In our day-to-day lives, we will be much more in control of the services we want and need.”
“In 10 years, driverless cars will bring a lot of change to our cities,” he predicts. “There will be a lot more flexibility. You won’t need a parking space, for instance, because all that will matter is that you are picked up near your office. There will be a lot fewer cars than there are today.”
It is hoped that several projects in the capital will streamline London’s energy use. In Greenwich, a pilot project will investigate using a heat exchange to extract energy from the water of the Thames. London Underground is also pioneering a system where energy from decelerating Tube trains can be used to power other parts of the network.
In Heathrow airport, the startup Pavegen is pioneering a technology that generates electricity from people’s footsteps, and which could be rolled out in other parts of the capital. Its paving slabs can also be used to harvest data from pedestrians—and even to allow users to interact with shops by standing in certain places via a linked smartphone app.
Pavegen chief executive and founder Laurence Kemball-Cook says, “We’ve created a product that can reshape the way people move in our cities, and with current digitization, our ability to connect physical and digital worlds through a single footstep places us at the forefront of the footfall energy-harvesting market.”
Older people will make up an increasing percentage of these growing populations, and it is essential that cities are equipped with the technology and expertise to help society’s most vulnerable population.
Banerjee says, “If you look at natural disasters, such as what happened in Fukushima, or during Hurricane Sandy, upwards of 60-65 percent of those left behind were the elderly. Smart-city technology could help here if you had a registry of older people and first responders armed with technology to help those who can’t help themselves.”
Atlanta: keeping communities safe
Atlanta aims to upgrade into a smart city using a network of sensors linked by optical cables. The safety of residents is a high priority, its mayor Kasim Reed has said.
In an interview this year, Reed said, “Atlanta is at a key moment. We have been forward-leaning for a long time. If you’re going to have a city that's smarter about the people coming into cities, you're going to have to leverage technology.”
City officials can keep tabs on everything from power outages to traffic issues from a digital dashboard designed by AT&T, known as the Smart City Network Operation Center.
Citizens will be able to access this data via mobile apps—allowing drivers to see where traffic lights have failed on their route and reserve parking spaces in advance.
Maintenance crews will be able to respond rapidly to problems such as icy roadways and defective bridges.
The city is laying 300 miles of fiber optic cable to create a new high-speed data network, which will be owned by the city, and which will relay smart-city data to the government. Cameras will capture vehicle number plates, and “smart” streetlamps will monitor car parks.
Public safety is a key feature of many of the technologies deployed in Atlanta, with video cameras used to monitor public areas, and suggestions that “gunfire detection technology” could help law enforcement identify the precise source of the noise and respond quickly to incidents.
In nearby Montgomery County, a pilot project is testing the use of smart technologies to look after vulnerable populations such as the elderly. The SCALE project (Safe Community Alert) uses sensors to monitor the health and wellbeing of volunteers in an elderly living facility. These sensors monitor smoke, carbon monoxide and temperature and use wearables to monitor residents’ health in real time.
Daniel Hoffman, chief innovation officer of Montgomery County, says that he now hopes to deploy the technologies on a larger scale.
“We've proven the technology,” he says. “Now we're testing its scalability. We've heard from subject matter experts and know from data and experience that this solves a real problem.”
Rather than getting lost in the crowd, technology promises to bring individuality back to the fore of urban areas.
“Though smart city tech relies on Big Data and sensors, its benefits are at the human level.”
The innovations driving smart-city technology may rely on Big Data and networks of millions of sensors, but its benefits will be felt at the human level, according to Simon Dennis, director of central government at analytics giant SAS.
“People are the ones that connect the results of data analytics with what it means for day-to-day life, and how it can be of benefit,” he says.
Goyang: a smarter, greener city
South Korea has been at the forefront of several technology booms, and a prototype smart-city scheme just north of the capital Seoul should ensure the country remains at the cutting edge.
Goyang, home to more than a million people, will pioneer several smart-city technologies in partnership with local network carrier LG Uplus. The process will be open, and in partnership with the government, so that each citizen can have some input.
IoT will be the lynchpin for this connected city. “We will develop IoT-based converged services and work to solve pending issues in urban areas by tapping into our open smart-city platform technologies,” LG Uplus IoT director Ahn Sung-joon has said.
LG Uplus also stated its ambition to build more IoT-model complexes across South Korea by “cooperating with other regional governments, contributing to establish a nationwide ecosystem for IoT services.”
Technologies that look set to be trialed in Goyang include smart street lighting, which lights up when pedestrians walk past, a redirection app to tackle illegal parking and an ambitious project to monitor air quality via sensors built into 200 bus stops across the city.
Such sensors can provide data that genuinely alters how people live their lives, and that can create major impacts on cities, according to Dennis, director of central government at analytics firm SAS.
“Insights about healthcare can be combined with transport through air quality monitoring stations, allowing hay fever sufferers to choose the best routes on high pollen count days; or to minimize smog exposure even if longer journey times ensue for asthma sufferers,” he proposes.
The power of analytics really kicks in when there is a continuous learning cycle, he adds. “This may be where the city starts to recognize that cars that drive slowly tend to have more accidents on high pollen days in certain areas. Different routes could then be recommended for the most ‘at risk’ drivers.”
Only recently have government agencies around the world been willing to invest in the technology needed to crunch city data. “Most cities have vast quantities of data that if accessed and used effectively could help improve public services, optimize transport routes and even reduce carbon emissions,” says Dennis. But as individual technologies from driverless cars to on-demand healthcare catch the public’s attention, public-sector leaders are realizing the need to provide the governments that their citizens expect.
While true smart-city technology is at an early stage, there are many pilot projects set to go live in the coming months and years. This technology and what it evolves into will transform our cities and the lives of those within them.