As we go about our daily lives in cities, we generally don’t notice the smart things around us, and we’re not really supposed to either. Traffic sensors, hybrid or electric public transport, cameras, air monitoring systems – for the most part, these things are hidden away from view, and you can be forgiven for not noticing exactly what kind of bus you are boarding. I notice these things, but then I am a massive nerd.
Smart cities, to most of us, sound like future talk – a not too distant metro utopia that we are all working towards. The reality is, smart city technology is all around us – inside buildings, outside in the street, above our heads and under our feet.
As we know from our previous pieces in this series, we are very much in a discovery stage of data gathering. So for the most part, we won’t really interact with 90% of the devices or systems in a smart city’s infrastructure. But that is changing. And you might be surprised at how much of it you’ve unknowingly interacted with already.
If you missed parts one and two in this series, then now’s a good time to catch up:
As a technology agency with sustainability always front of mind, we love to see ventures that work towards making the world a greener, cleaner place. Applications are a particularly tangible way to demonstrate some of the incredible work that’s happening behind the scenes in urban areas all across the UK and the wider world. So we’ve decided to take a look at a few of these apps, and compare them to some of the more ‘everyday’ interactions that we might take for granted.
The city of Miami launched an app that offers rewards to commuters who use multimodal transit across not only the city, but the Miami-Dade county. The Department of Transportation and Velocia collaborated to offer commuters ‘velos’, which can be redeemed within the mobility ecosystem. Think of it like a loyalty programme for green public transport. As Velocia partner with more green public ventures around the city, they get closer to their goal of reducing unnecessary journeys and carbon emissions.
Safe & The City app
Launched in 2018, but increasingly relevant today, the SatC app targets sexual harassment incidents. The app was conceived by Jillian Kowalchik, who was met with verbal abuse on a dark London street when first moving to London. This wasn’t the first app with women’s safety in mind, but what makes it different is its use of GPS, crowdsourced information and police data to build a picture of risk in particular areas. It was designed specifically for women living in London, but has since expanded to include every UK city as well as Berlin, Germany.
NOAH Lifesaving app
NOAH is a government-built app from the Philippines, and it stands for National Operational Assessment of Hazards. As an area vulnerable to earthquakes, eruptions and tsunamis, the government developed the app to reduce the impact of these and other natural disasters.
By collecting data from rainfall sensors, imaging tech and land assessment systems, it is able to closely monitor statistics and make the data available and presentable to the public through its mobile and web apps. Residents can then make informed decisions based on the data collected in and around their area, as well as receiving warnings in advance of natural disasters striking.
Whilst it won’t win any awards for its product name, SmartAPPCity is certainly an impressive feat. Designed in Spain, it’s been made in a way that makes it easily adaptable to any other city, and is also being used in parts of Chile, Costa Rica and India.
The app works upon a public/private partnership framework in which important information, events, key dates, merchants and businesses can all coexist in a city-wide virtual directory. Citizens can also submit any type of complaint to the city, and are able to do so by attaching images or video. The FIWARE Smart Cities Challenge (the world’s largest) selected SmartAPPCity out of 422 other apps as ‘Most Innovative’ and ‘Greatest Potential’.
Similar to the app above, MyTown is a city-wide message board style app in which residents can report problems and issues direct to the local government. This could be something as small as a pothole, or something as serious as organised crime intelligence. With over 30 kinds of information sources also available in the app, citizens can keep up to date, in real time, with anything from road closures to hospital wait times. Further up the chain, officials and municipal staff are able to directly respond to feedback and engage with their communities on a more personal level.
These apps are truly exciting examples of how data being collected, and in most cases, made public, make cities a better, safer place. But this is just the beginning. As we slowly transition to greener transport, smarter roads and buildings, our mindset will change too.
So to tie this back to the beginning of the blog, smart cities and the technology that makes them smart, in my view, will remain discreet. Cities are big, beautiful places and the role of a council or local government isn’t to rip it down and replace it, but to introduce technology in a way that preserves architecture, culture and the day-to-day movements of millions of people. It’s putting that data into the hands of residents, citizens, workers and commuters that will really start to spread the word of smart cities and show us just how much work has been going on behind the scenes.
Next time you’re on your commute (which could still be a while yet) or you’re heading into a city, take a look on your app store of choice. See what’s available. You might be surprised.
We love to build applications. More so if one of their core goals is to improve the world. Whether that’s transport, ecommerce, hospitality, entertainment, or just about anything, we are here to help you build it. Get in touch with us if you’d like to talk about bringing your digital product or project to life.