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A data driver future for cities

Rapid urbanisation is leading to smarter cities that improve the lives of citizens through technology as Mark Venables discovers

Over half of the world’s population today lives in an urban area. By 2030, there will be an estimated 41 megacities across the globe with more than ten million inhabitants each. People and businesses are flowing into cities that offer a high level of services and opportunities, which is why more and more cities are starting to invest in smart technology.

One of the beauties of smart cities is that they will not look that different to the cities of today, but how we interact with them will be transformed. “Behind the scenes, there is greater connectivity and better use of data so we can have a more efficient city experience which provides a range of values to residents,” Dr Andrew Turton, head of operations, at consultants Delta-ee, says. “In essence, a smart city is successful when more than one traditional vertical is considered alongside another; things like, how can we use air pollution data to improve traffic flows? Or how can we better understand people’s use of buildings to have better utilisation of floorspace?”

Getting control of transportation
According to Turton, these sorts of developments are already happening, predominantly within the transport sector where it is slightly easier to make changes. Local authorities have good control over the transport system city wide and ensuring effective and efficient public transport remains a key priority. “It is a natural starting point for these developments,” Turton says. “One example of this in action is to do with traffic lights. By using air quality data and looking at traffic flows, traffic lights can be changed to help prevent congestion in certain parts of the city. Transport also benefits from being well connected – changes in one place can have a much wider impact citywide.”

Infrastructure, buildings, connectivity and transport are all areas that can be made smart in a smart city, but they all rely on one thing; the collection and analysis of data. The better the data and understanding of data, the easier it is to make a city smart. Therefore, technology companies are increasingly leading the charge on smart city innovations and infrastructure.

“Interconnectivity and open access to enable innovation will be key to the success of smart cities,” Turton explains. “There is a risk that a commercially driven proprietary approach could limit the potential for innovative solutions to evolve. To ensure effective progress towards a smart city is made we need to develop standardised frameworks and platforms both across cities, and between different cities.

“It will not be progress if you need a different app to access a smart bike to the bus network or private taxis. This will be made harder still if it’s multiple apps again in a different city.” While apps are a clear area for human interaction with a smart city, according to Turton the system needs to be as simple and effective as possible, to ensure customers are happy to come on the journey.

Truly smart cities will be achieved when we reach the point where people passively engage with smart infrastructure without having to make conscious decisions. Passive engagement allows the city to pull together different data points to predict your behaviour for the day/week and adapt accordingly.

“Citizens are becoming increasingly aware of their data, whether that is through what they share on Facebook or the recent example of AI facial recognition technology at Kings Cross, we are increasingly leaving a data trail across cities,” Turton concludes. “Data privacy is vital, but users will also make a balance on giving data versus the value they receive from resulting services. Once cities can make good responsible use of this data, we will be a big step closer to a smart city.

“We can expect to see smart developments over the next five and ten years including bringing together different verticals. But it is a process that will continue to evolve as our lives become ever more connected and our cities ever more responsive to those connections.”

Driven by The Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a great facilitator of smart city development, as it allows digital devices to transfer data over a network without human interaction or interference. “When deployed across vast areas, IoT technology can be particularly useful as it can collect a large amount of data over time,” Andrew Shikiar, executive director of the FIDO Alliance, says. “Through monitoring and analysis of city systems, for example, governments can make timely and data-driven decisions around city management and planning.

“Adherence to strict security standards when rolling out IoT technology is imperative to ensuring smart cities remain both intelligent and secure. No matter how sophisticated the services offered by smart city IoT devices are, it means little if they can be easily interrupted by hackers. Not all IoT devices are created equal, and if proper security measures are not taken during the development phase, they can make infrastructure more vulnerable to cybercriminals, who can infect wider networks with malware or even botnets that allow malicious remote utilisation of devices.

“The emergence of these risks is unfortunate and should prompt all stakeholders involved in the manufacturing of smart cities – both public and private – to put security at the heart of the development, deployment and onboarding of IoT devices. For starters, this means doing away with centralised databases and moving the authentication process to the individual devices. This ensures that very little non-encrypted personally identifiable data travels between devices – making it harder to carry out large-scale attacks against smart city infrastructure.

“As IoT becomes the norm, industry collaboration and standardisation are essential elements to remove the vulnerabilities within IoT systems. By banding together, large manufacturers and vendors of IoT services can make the development of smart cities as efficient, innovative and secure as possible without compromising the associated ease-of-use and municipal efficiency benefits.”

Having smart technological solutions in place for our cities will soon become an essential rather than a nice-to-have according to Don Guo, CEO, Broctagon Fintech Group, says. “Take pollution control for example,” he says. “With growing global fears around climate change, how we manage our cities is becoming ever more important. Technology can facilitate better urban planning and solve pertinent problems like waste, congested traffic and population growth with more data.

“Having an interconnected city can also allow governing bodies to make more informed decisions. Technology like blockchain can facilitate this, bridging all the different aspects of city management together to give officials an accurate and detailed overview of the city.”

While IoT will undoubtedly play a large role in smart cities, blockchain is also at the forefront of smart city innovation. This is highlighted by China’s recent decision to launch a blockchain-based identification for its smart cities. The country has committed to build 100 smart cities by 2020, much of which will likely be underpinned by blockchain tech.

“There are a number of processes that the technology can automate or make more efficient,” Guo adds. “As a result, it is no surprise that more and more cities are looking into using the technology in their operations. One such application of blockchain in smart cities is Decentralised Identity (DID). This allows individuals to create universally-recognised authentic IDs, making it much easier to register for services like voting, driving licenses, banking and electricity.”

The technology could also have a major effect on the way cities handle real estate, from property purchasing to due diligence to title management. “A lot of processes in real estate are paper-based and complex, with many stakeholders involved — including landlords, property managers, tenants, and vendors,” Guo says. “Blockchain-recorded titles and deeds and Smart Contracts Property Leasing can limit the number of intermediaries in the process, whilst also improving trust and transparency.”

Keeping it safe
One challenge that the mega cities of the future will face is the spiralling rate of crime. It is well reported that as cities grow, crime grows even faster with certain types of crime, such as car theft and robbery, exponentially outpacing the population. “To remain competitive and attractive, they must be able to ensure not only smooth services and operations – such as efficient public transport – but also a safe environment for people to live in. Smart technologies enable this, thereby making life easier for residents,” Jean-Philippe Deby, business development director at software developer Genetec, says. “However, for people to want to live in a smart city, they need to feel safe, thereby making security a key component.”

Examples could include an advanced video surveillance system, which serves the police in its work against crime, but can also deliver more benefits to public safety, traffic management and city operations by providing insight into things like people flow, traffic, incidents and other disturbances across the city through a unified security platform. “These smart technologies are needed to cater to the growing population of urban environments, and to keep them safe,” Deby adds. “With the advent of IoT and increased connectivity, another major security consideration for smart cities is protecting privacy.

“Both public and private sectors are required to make the necessary changes and adapt to better protect individual information, and advanced security platforms tied with new regulations can provide the means to do just that, all whilst making information sharing with emergency services simpler and much quicker.”

Cities have made great strides in becoming smart, thanks largely to better connected systems. 4G, Wi-Fi and 5G on the horizon, have all made information sharing easier than ever before. “There is, however, more to do, as a city cannot be considered ‘smart’ until everything is connected and, most importantly, secure,” Deby adds. “With regards to security, recent advances in IP technology have brought us better and more accurate video surveillance, access control, automatic number plate recognition and analytics capabilities. However, in order to work efficiently and improve lives for the better, city officials must work on unifying these solutions and make them work together in one platform.”

Currently, cities run several systems separate from each other, which significantly slows down operations. A comprehensive unified security platform would give cities the ability to work smarter by providing enhanced situational awareness, improved operational efficiency and increased productivity.

An example of this is that currently cities still retain a very manual approach – if there is a problem, a human is on hand to provide a solution, but this will not always be the case. “Driverless cars will soon become a reality, and smart cities will be reliant on their smooth operation,” Deby continues. “However, if a traffic cabinet is tampered with or hacked, traffic sensors will go down and driverless cars will grind to a halt – they won’t be able to overcome the problem where a human sensibly could. It is simple elements like this which are preventing us from adopting a truly smart future.

“That is why, if we are going to have a connected infrastructure, everything needs to feed into one, open architecture structure across a unified platform so any issue is identified quickly by necessary stakeholders and fixed before it impacts other areas of the city. We see in London, if one aspect of public transport goes down there is a knock-on effect, so for smart cities to be truly smart, this has to be thought through and rectified.”

Driven by standards
Smart city projects – such as intelligent transportation systems, efficient waste management and smart energy supplies – are being developed to meet the environmental, economic and social challenges which fast-growing, densely populated urban areas face. In order to provide the intelligent solutions required, we need to ensure the data, collected by sensors, cameras and other devices, is accessible through the IIoT.

However, Dan Jelfs, senior vice president of Global Sales at software developer, Mobica, explains our ability to harness the full potential of this information is dependent on whether we can overcome a series of initial challenges. “For instance, from a technical perspective, we need industry-agreed hardware standards to connect sensors and devices, regardless of manufacturer, and a robust application framework so everyone can make sense of the data made available,” he says.

As an example, he points to a smart transport system that may include intelligent parking solutions that offer real-time visibility over available spaces through camera-equipped car parks being able to share information to vehicles’ infotainment systems. “These systems could then direct drivers to a spot that will still be empty by the time they arrive at their destination,” he says. “Schemes such as this are already beginning to take shape in UK cities such as Hull, where an operating system known as CityOS will form an IoT base layer for the municipality.”

These solutions will only be realised if data is made freely available to the innovators developing the systems. “Sharing information this openly does, however, throw up questions around the appropriate use of data, which will require the approval of the regulators,” Jelfs adds. “In part, this is due to privacy concerns – is the information collected by sensors and cameras appropriate and in the public interest?

“As well as needing standards to facilitate the communication of data, collaboration is also needed to strengthen cyber-resilience. Especially when you consider the transport system and how the information we relay between sensors, cameras, GPS devices, vehicles and EV charging stations are beginning to play such a crucial role in how traffic flows through a city. The potential consequences of a malicious cyberattack could, therefore, be chaotic.”

As such, the ultimate challenge will lie in the resilience of the technology that supports all these initiatives. If urban residents and regulators are to accept these solutions, then the IT infrastructure underpinning this must be flawless.

Five technologies that are driving smart cities
Alastair Reynolds, Honeywell Building Solutions, Europe service leader highlights five technologies that are facilitating the development of smart cities. These intelligent urban centres are leveraging the increasing number of IIoT applications and devices including sensors, security cameras and digital kiosks.
1. Environmental sensors that monitor gases like carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and carbon dioxide in the city, as well as temperature, noise and humidity. As a result, citizens become aware of the quality of environment at different locations in a city and can encourage planning for improvement. The data collected enhances transparency and can be used for traffic planning.
2. Intelligent traffic management systems consist of cameras, sensors and drone platforms, which enable license plate number detection, identification of stolen/suspected vehicles and traffic violations. The easy to implement and operate sensors can help reduce peak hour congestion by identifying the shortest possible commute, improve safety and reduce carbon emissions.
3. Emergency response systems combine auto trackers, adaptive motion detection, CCTV integration and intrusion detection and counting analytics for a safer and more secured city. The collaborative and real-time data management helps alert and inform the city authorities.
4. Waste management implements real-time tracking and route monitoring, trip scheduling and optimisation, on-demand scheduling and vehicle assignment with map-based visualisation and monitoring. The system improves solid waste revenue efficiency, delivers sustainable, clean cities and minimises citizen grievances.
5. Intelligent street lighting systems can help automatically dim lighting in areas that are unoccupied. This IoT-enabled functionality monitors the traffic volume, time of day, special events and pedestrian crossings and analyses information from smart metering and smart grid projects. As a result, the energy consumption is significantly reduced.

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