If you mentioned ‘smart cities’ in conversation during the nineties, perhaps it would conjure thoughts of flying cars, ginormous neon billboards, and CCTV surveillance on every corner. The reality is, smart cities are not a dystopian fusion of George Orwell and Ridley Scott. In fact, smart cities are generally quite ordinary technologies solving simple, everyday problems.
We’re kicking off a mini-series on smart cities by looking at how the Internet of Things is an essential component, and where you can expect to see smart cities progress throughout the UK. I was actually quite surprised, whilst researching this article, to see just how much is happening on our humble island. Until now, I saw smart cities as very much a mainland Europe ‘thing’.
I’ll spare you the Wikipedia definition of a smart city – we all know what a smart city is. But I will delve into some numbers. Since 1950, urban population has risen by 600% from 751 million to 4 billion. Over the following thirty years, city population is expected to grow by another 2.5 billion. This huge influx of people presents countless challenges, as infrastructure and public services struggle to keep up.
We already know from the building boom and the rapid expansion of transport networks such as the London Underground, that the initial solution has always been to build more and build bigger. But as urban planning debates, environmental concerns, and sustainability targets make expansion more and more difficult, cities have no choice but to become smarter. Enter, the Internet of Things.
Global smart city development is expected to reach over £110 billion by the end of next year. Keen to understand what makes up this incredible figure, we took a look at the numbers via the International Data Corporation.
- Officer wearables — 62%
Police and law enforcement officials will be increasingly equipped with devices that provide real-time info to aid decision-making and situational awareness.
- V2X (vehicle to everything) — 49%
A vehicle-to-vehicle wireless network that can also loop in public transport, infrastructure, and pedestrians, with the primary goals of increasing safety and enabling automation.
- Open data — 25%
This is simply data that anyone can access. The data will in some way contribute to government and smart city initiatives. Data sharing is not only great for transparency but also promotes better communication and analysis.
- Smart refuse collection — 23%
It may be some time until we see curb-side solar-powered bins equipped with smart sensors. But it is happening elsewhere in the world and allows refuse collection services to optimise their schedules, ultimately saving fuel.
- Smart city platforms — 23%
Now quite common in most modern cities (and suburban areas too), these are systems that collect data around measurables such as traffic flow, pedestrian density and air quality.
The figures above reflect annual growth rates from 2017 to 2022 (predicated), and it’s clear to see that wearables and vehicle communication are seeing a notable uptake. For now, it feels like the primary benefits of these technologies are safety, public health and environment, and do little to address the problems exacerbated by the rapid growth of our cities, such as housing shortages, overworked public services, and pollution. You could even argue that the motor industry is doing more for inner-city air quality than the city decision-makers themselves. But we’ll take a look at smart cars and smart vehicles in a later blog.
What are the solutions?
Let’s be blunt… smart refuse collection and traffic easing is only just scratching the surface. For cities to truly become cleaner and healthier places, there needs to be significant changes to services and infrastructure, such as better irrigation systems or entirely refactored road networks, just as an example. With inner-city space at such a premium, and any major projects causing huge upheaval, not to mention cost, it’s difficult to pinpoint a modern-day UK city who are really changing the world.
That’s not to say things aren’t happening. We found a number of homeland initiatives that feel like steps in the right direction.
The Triangulum Project – Manchester
This project, led by Siemens, the University of Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University, could save Manchester around 57,000t CO2 emissions per annum. That’s the equivalent of removing 12,000 cars from the road. The development of a new cloud-based energy platform manages renewable systems and facilities management systems at three sites around the city.
Smart City OS — Hull
This actually sounds very cool. Hull, which benefits greatly from being a smaller area, has implemented a city-wide operating system that will ultimately make the city ‘programmable’. Much like an actual OS, different applications can be plugged in. One such venture being a street light system that monitors the movement of people. Whilst it’s initially unclear what this data will be used for, it’s a valuable and non-invasive way to find out which areas are busier or quieter than others. Did you know that Hull is the first city in the UK to achieve full-fibre connectivity?
Smarter London Together – London
This is an initiative geared towards pulling a number of successful smaller projects together and uniting the city’s 33 boroughs in a way that allows solutions to be replicated, shared and scaled. One standout project is Lewisham’s MiWiFi, a programme that lent tablets and training to the unemployed and over 50s.
Bristol Is Open – Bristol
The University of Bristol and Bristol City Council have put their heads together and are working hard to improve the quality of life for everyone living in the metropolitan area. The newly created City Operations Centre is looking at ways to improve digital infrastructure and best practices around technology implementation. It sounds like early days, but as we all know, planning is everything.
Future City – Glasgow
Now we’re talking… a £24m state-of-the-art traffic management and public safety system that utilises data and video to improve public services responses. The city is also prototyping an app, My Glasgow, which allows people to interact with these services and offers a better way to report issues. Glasgow is also trialing energy efficiency models, including intelligent street lighting.
It’s reassuring to see many UK cities making sizable investments in a smart city future. But it’s also fair to say, despite the gargantuan numbers thrown about in some cases, these are just baby steps. From the list above, we can see that many cities are still in their discovery period, building out the systems, platforms, networks, and teams to better monitor and collect data. A city certainly can’t become smart overnight. So our belief is that with more advanced monitoring, whether through wearables or sensors, councils, governments and universities will be better positioned to make long-term decisions and physical changes to the way we live, travel, and work in cities.
At this point, technology is key. The physical technology is slowly trickling out (Hull’s street light sensors being a great example), but software, applications, and web interfaces are being implemented at a blistering pace all across the UK and Europe. This initial investment in systems will lay the groundwork for the more concrete (no pun intended) changes that we are yet to see.
As part of our drive to do more for the planet and the world around us, we aim to be working solely on sustainability-focused projects. Our combined technical expertise and our passion for a cleaner, smarter Earth puts us in a great position as a technology supplier ready to help build your platform, application, or solution.
If you’d like to set up a discovery call with a technology partner who truly cares about sustainability and improving our everyday lives, then do get in touch.