Smart cities are no longer the stuff of science fiction. Many smart technologies are already operating successfully in major cities, writes Flemmich Webb
“In today’s data-driven world, cities need technologies that reveal valuable intelligence about a range of economic, social and environmental factors,” says Simon Goldsmith, senior vice president of technology solutions at Hitachi Consulting. “Everything from population, transport and water levels need to be monitored in an automated way. This will highlight any potential problems or areas for improvement and, most importantly, ensure the provision of a sustained and profitable society.”
Xan Morgan, Bluewater Bio’s vice president of business development, says: “The future of water and wastewater is reuse. This has social and political implications, involving redeveloping nations’ infrastructure and the way we lead our daily lives.”
One of the most advanced cities in this respect is Singapore, in particular with its NEWater treatment plants, which treat water for reuse. NEWater presently meets 30 per cent of Singapore’s total water demand and by 2060 is projected to meet 50 per cent of future water demand. Mr Morgan says: “The system is a shining example of how smart cities can ensure we do not waste valuable resources and allow us to move towards a sustainable future.”
As well as smart processes, smart data management is making a difference. Using Oracle business intelligence tools, Hitachi Consulting UK helped Severn Trent improve performance management and business intelligence. Keeping track of equipment performance, operating costs, water flow, quality, wastage and power usage enabled the identification of potential and actual equipment failures to ensure continued water supply.
Floor tiles employ the previously untapped kinetic energy of human footfall to generate renewable electricity
Energy future remains a key question. Critical advances need to be made in energy generation to decouple economic growth from emissions increases. Renewables will play an important role with developments in geothermal and marine energy technology offering new options. There will be a shift away from centralised energy grids towards decentralised networks facilitating local heat and power distribution.
Further developments in machine-to-machine communication (M2M) will allow an unlimited number of devices to be interrogated, analysed and controlled, and provide useful data to improve control and efficiency for many city services.
This will transform how buildings operate, says Steve Lewis, Living PlanIT’s chief executive and founder, whose company specialises in M2M. “Buildings today are fairly stupid; this technology will mean buildings become active and will support human lifestyles whether at work or play.”
At city scale, there will be advances in building energy management systems, transport systems management, efficient high-voltage energy transmission, and information and communication technology, all of which will contribute to the development of smart cities. The widespread deployment of fibre-optic networks, such as those operated by Gradwell and others, will support the two-way flow of data from homes and businesses.
There will be changes to people’s daily lives in these smart cities, too. Every year, IBM highlights emerging technologies from its research labs around the world. Its 2011 predictions include the harnessing of kinetic energy from anything that moves or even from running, walking or cycling.
Pavegen’s energy-harnessing system is already doing this in London’s Westfield Shopping Centre. Pavegen floor tiles employ the previously untapped kinetic energy of human footfall to generate renewable electricity for a wide variety of applications.
“Predicting technologies is never simple, but an easy prediction is that the personal device will supersede the traditional laptop/computer,” says Steve Latchem, vice president of solutions and strategy at Mastek UK. “With the number of devices exceeding one per person on the planet this year and around two billion devices being sold per year, information and business process services in your hand is the future.”
The key to successful smart cities of the future will be interconnectivity, not simply in terms of technology, but in governance. Data available on one system must be available for interrogation by other systems. “For future cities to be truly smart they need not only integrated technology solutions, but also an integrated city governance structure that will allow them to move towards a successful sustainable future, creating economic wealth, jobs and a better life for their citizens,” says Kevin Worster, cities sales director at Siemens.
Secure living with advanced ICT
Demographic shift is one of the many challenges faced in urban environments, especially in the developed world. The city of Bolzano, with the help of IBM, has devised a new model of social and healthcare that addresses the issue.
Bolzano, while having the highest GDP per capita in Italy, faces the same difficulties as many cities today: growing demand for service provision in the face of static budgets and resources. It has a growing number of elderly citizens requiring care and this particular group already constitutes 25 per cent of the population.
On-going medical advances mean that people are living longer, usually at home, but often alone. The city wanted to find a way to support this independence, but in such a way as to ensure the safety and security of its elderly residents.
IBM worked with the city, the TIS Innovation Park and the Tyrol Sparkasse to implement an advanced mesh-network of sensors capable of monitoring the home environment. By keeping track of CO2, temperature and water levels, for example, the system is able to track any potentially dangerous changes. If flagged, the system alerts friends or relatives, ensuring the long-term safety of residents.