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Smart cities…coming to a town near you?

Smart cities use technology to create a better citizen experience. Many cities are on the road to becoming ‘smart’ — including quite a few Aussie cities.

Salsa Digital 5 December 2016

What is a smart city?

A smart city is about creating an urban area that uses technology to create better and more unified services for its citizens. It draws heavily on the Internet of Things and open data to deliver a city that runs better — from traffic management to waste management. (See our blogs on the IoT and open data for more info on these areas.) The premise is that many things can be connected to a network using sensors, which transmit information. For example, bin sensors can transmit a message when they’re nearly full, and parking sensors could ‘match’ spaces to people in the area looking for a park.

Smart cities in action

Smart cities are on the radar for the IoT Australia Alliance, with one of its six workstreams being Smart Industries and Cities. IoTAA’s paper, Enabling Smart Cities with IoT, sets out some strategies to bring Australia to the forefront of the smart city movement. It also includes examples of smart city projects around the world.

One such example is the ‘Bristol is Open’ project, which is a collaboration between the University of Bristol and Bristol City Council. Using data sensors and smart city technology, they will manage traffic, waste and energy.

Singapore also has a state-of-the-art traffic management system that uses IoT. Singapore’s Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) maximise road efficiency and manage traffic flow. This is part of an overarching plan for Singapore to be the world’s first ‘Smart Nation’ and it’s set up the Smart Nation Platform for its IoT network infrastructure.

Parking is another area that’s targeted under ‘smart city’ programs. According to Enabling Smart Cities with IoT, a smart parking trial in San Francisco reduced the amount of time spent searching for a space by 43 per cent.

The Amsterdam Smart City project kicked off in 2009 and that city is already enjoying the smart city life.

In the future, autonomous vehicles will also be part of the smart city grid. There has been quite a lot of media around driverless cars recently, and the IoTAA says: “The potential of autonomous vehicles to boost the Australian economy and reimagine mobility is unmatched. McKinsey assessments suggest that fully autonomous vehicles could eliminate 90 per cent of motor vehicle accidents, with partially autonomous vehicles eliminating around 40 per cent of accidents.” This has massive flow-on effects not only in terms of our road toll and the number of lives that would be saved, but also a huge monetary flow-on effect in terms of the economic costs of road accidents.

Smart cities in Australia

In April this year the Federal Government put smart cities on the agenda, unveiling its policy at the Smart Cities Summit in Melbourne. The Smart Cities Plan will: “support local governments to fast-track innovative technology solutions that improve long-standing urban problems.”

The Plan doesn’t focus only on the technological definition of a smart city, rather it covers three ‘pillars’— smart investment, smart policy and smart technology. This bigger picture approach addresses smart investment in infrastructure covering jobs, housing and healthy environments, as well as a smarter approach to city policy including measuring a policy’s success and responding to new needs.

Thinking of the tech definition of smart cities, this section of the Plan is broken into three key areas:

  1. Thinking of technology solutions first. The Plan acknowledges the imminent widespread use of automated cars as ‘transformational’ and the need to improve and change transport infrastructure in general.

  2. Leveraging open and real time data. The Plan stresses the importance of these items (open data was the subject of our last DTIG blog) and how data can be fed back into planning to create better solutions.

  3. Driving use of energy efficient technologies. This key item addresses the Australian Government’s focus on climate change technology.

Below are some examples of smart city technology in action (or being piloted) in Australia at the moment.

Smart bins

Distributed by Solar Bins Australia, these bins include sensors that send a message when the bin is nearly full and needs to be collected. The bins can also be multi-functional in the future, as a cost-efficient way for local councils to roll out wi-fi hotspots and they could also be modified to measure things like temperature and air quality. (Source: IoTHUB)

Autonomous cars

Last year, South Australia introduced laws allowing on-road testing of autonomous vehicles.

Adelaide

Cisco made Adelaide Australia’s first Lighthouse City, setting up the Adelaide Smart City Studio. Current projects include piloting LED streetlights, an environmental monitoring project (reporting CO2, dust, sound and temperature) and smart city parking that allows people to find, pay and top-up on-street parking via a mobile app.

Wollongong

Earlier this year, Meshed launched a publicly accessible long range wide area network (LoRaWAN) in Wollongong focusing on IoT solutions and smart cities in particular. The LoRaWAN provides the network to link devices with sensors and transmit data.

The challenges

Back in August, The Mandarin said about smart cities: “The smart city is supposed to be a unifying concept, all about linking up emergent applications of open data and the internet of things to create cohesive, high-tech built environments that are more citizen-centric and user-friendly.” However, the article also mentions that the challenge is not the technology, it’s coming up with a unified solution with multiple players in the picture. It’s about collaboration and planning in both the government and private sectors.

Smart cities around the world will need significant collaboration — from local councils, to federal governments and private organisations — but the benefits will be huge.

Salsa Digital’s take

It seems clear that smart cities are the way of the future and will deliver many benefits to citizens, in terms of convenience and economic savings and/or growth. The IoTAA is calling to work with local councils and governments to make smart cities a reality in Australia. So if smart cities are relevant to you and your agency, we suggest you reach out to theIoTAA!

Salsa Digital is keen to see the future of smart cities evolve in Australia…not because the technology is directly related to our services, but just because we’re pro-tech (of all shapes and sizes), especially tech that delivers such tangible benefits.

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