How the cloud is streamlining urban life

A city will tell you when it’s about to break down if you just let it, because when it comes to data, a problem shared is a problem solved

Big-city life isn’t always business friendly. Broken escalators cause delays in railway stations, faulty trains mean meetings are cancelled and failing broadband wrecks important contacts. If businesses were able to see when problems were about to occur, they could work around them. But what if the city itself was able to foresee snarl-ups and stop them in advance?

Cloud software is giving smart cities that capability, enabling administrators to see through walls and predict the future when it comes to daily city life. The same cloud tech can also help a business run transparently and remotely, whether it be a sandwich factory or an accountancy office.

Smart cities, like Nava Raipur in India, are now so advanced they can provide digital 3D modelling of the entire city, enabling forensic analysis of problems before they occur. In Barcelona, escalator failures are avoided because a central data system can spot the unit is overused or progressively slowing down, or that the water pipe leading to an ornamental fountain is starting to vibrate under increased pressure. With all these pieces of interlinked data stored on the cloud, city administrators can see and assess them instantaneously.

What cloud technology does is bring every objective and tool together, from maintenance to sustainability

In Mexico, a network of 13,000 cloud-based cameras, installed by Eagle Eye Networks, not only spots crimes unfolding, but helps emergency services navigate traffic congestion as well as issue early-warning messages to citizens. 

During the coronavirus pandemic, the same camera system now assists post-lockdown offices. As staff move through a screening area, the cameras take their temperature and notify human resources by email if an individual’s temperature is too high. Notifications are delivered along with an image of the person, the temperature detected, as well as the name and location of the camera that detected the high temperature. COVID or the flu stays at the door.

Cloud cover shines light over cities

Smart cities’ power is in their shared control, says Ravi Gopinath, chief cloud officer at AVEVA that has provided the software for smart projects in Nava Raipur and Bremen, Germany. Ten years ago, he says, a control room operator would manually monitor utilities, but you would have “islanded systems” that worked opaquely or even against each other. 

“You’d have one product which tracked when the next bus is coming or what car park is full, allowing you to plan a journey. But these systems were not interlinked,” he says. “What cloud technology does is bring every objective and tool together, from maintenance to sustainability, under one dashboard that is consumable by governor and citizen alike, constantly improving and reinventing itself.”

In the future, each citizen will use the city cloud to smooth their passage through daily life, with data from each journey feeding back to the city itself. “You will be able to see if there is a relatively empty bus coming just after this one,” says Gopinath. “But, on the reverse, administrators can see how much a bus is used, how late it is and how much fuel it is using.”

Come and explore your “city in a box”

Cloud software provides a viewable “city in a box” for administrators, a 365-degree picture that allows complete accountability, says Sayaji Shinde, smart city consultant who has overseen more than twenty smart city projects in the past ten years, including in Da Nang, Vietnam, and Davao City in the Philippines. 

“With the cloud visible by all, officials and administrators can no longer pass the buck or blame budgets because every process, performance and penny is accounted for,” he says.

This transparency is demonstrated by the Swedish university city of Umeå. The city had set public climate change goals and, in a bid to reduce carbon emissions, had been investing in cycle lanes with some success. When this success plateaued, the cloud software that tracked city emissions showed exactly why. 

Climate benefits from gathering clouds

ClimateView is a cloud-based tool to track local climate change, helping cities that have climate goals, but no idea how to reach them. Every piece of environment and emissions data for participating cities, including Cambridge, Mannheim in Germany, and La Palma in the Canary Islands, is cloud-accessible for all citizens to see impacts and results. 

Data from ClimateView revealed Umeå had reached peak mass with cycle lanes and commuters who didn’t cycle needed another green alternative. Umeå’s planners realised new electric buses would have a greater impact both environmentally and economically than more cycle lanes.

“Previously every piece of climate data and emission indicator was kept on separate spreadsheets and manually inputted,” says Erik Eklund, Umeå’s environment and energy officer. “To get a complete view you would have to speak to multiple departments. Cloud software changed that.”

Publication of Umeå’s data prompted collaboration with another Swedish city, Eskilstuna. “Even large local companies like Volvo, ABB and Metso are now able to get involved with our climate goals seamlessly,” says Eklund.

Tomer Shalit, creator of ClimateView, says hosting entirely on the cloud allows you to “compare apples with apples” without suffering death by data. “You get clarity of reasoning, develop stringent models for future planning, and waste less money and less resources. Promises cannot be hidden behind,” he says.

Archaic mixed technologies are rapidly being brought under one system, says Gopinath of AVEVA. “In yesterday’s offices, underlying systems needed their own server and infrastructure, but by using cloud the cost of ownership of the software comes down as well as improving the security, as all updates and security are done centrally. Not only do you get more varied useful data, you control the governance of that data,” he concludes.