As cities are facing many challenges such as urban sprawl, traffic congestion and safety, and transportation accessibility, it is increasingly becoming important for urban planners to provide smart solutions while making efficient use of available assets, resources and infrastructure. The main question is how these smart solutions will help citizens: will they improve their quality of life and provide a clean and sustainable environment?
Estimates say that intelligent traffic management can increase the capacity of existing roads by up to 30 percent. In terms of investment this means 30 percent less roads need to be built in the future and instead of widening roads and building new ones, the existing roads can be used much longer providing the same service level as today.
This can only be achieved by making traffic more efficient (more cars/minute per lane) and safe (less accidents and interruptions) and handling planned and unplanned exceptions (events, accidents, detours) in a more “intelligent” way.
Adding intelligent cars to the equation gains could increase dramatically as estimated by researchers at Columbia University saying that 100% adoption of the technologies could lead to an increase of road capacity by 273 percent. Even if we consider this as a very optimistic view it shows that significant introducing new technologies and connecting systems can achieve significant improvements.
Involving other modes of transport like trains or light rail, bicycles, scooters and walking, even larger improvements are possible. There are already many services available, which provide real-time traffic information and calculate alternative routes and usage of transportation facilities. These ideally offer end to end pricing and billing, which currently is a big challenge due to legal obstacles, missing standards for information exchange, competing business models, complexity of processes and data processing and the large number of stakeholders involved.
However, there are already some providers who offer these services, but are still lacking the critical mass and coverage to provide a convenient end-to-end service (please see examples below).
The legal framework required for the implementation of smart city technologies
The legal framework has to fulfill some basic needs:
– protect personal data and provide data privacy
– ensure minimum level of data security and prevent vulnerabilities that endanger service delivery
– find the right balance between data protection and data openness
– offer flexibility to allow for new data flows and usages for the benefit of the user.
Since national borders do usually not limit the flow of information, the consequences have to be considered. As we currently see a trend that large IT service providers build data centers in different regions to offer processing of the data within local legislative regions, it still has to be discussed how the compliance with local law can be ensured due to the virtual character of the data and data flow.
Regarding the protection of consumers a national or regional government agency assessing data usage and business models based on processing of personal data and information should be considered. This will not only investigate and set security standards, but it will also set standards for privacy in digital business models and assess the impact of data usage on the informational self-determination.
Finally, the legal framework has to be discussed and adjusted according to the changing perception of data privacy and the requirements of citizens.
What will a digital city look like
A digital city will be inclusive, knowledge driven, sustainable, resource efficient, foster innovation and always strive to leverage digital technology to improve the livability for its citizens.
A digital city will anticipate the needs of its citizens, helping them to provide information when it is needed. It will be situation aware and make suggestions for services as needed and depending on individual personal preferences. It will sense and anticipate the needs of the city as a whole (for example, transportation, energy and health care) and the individual (for example, food, entertainment and health care). It will organize the services and processes in a way that minimizes the impact on its performance goals and is aligned with its overall strategy (policies, guidelines, vision) whilst being responsive to the needs of its citizens.
Finally, each individual will be able to spend more time with things they love to do versus disliked everyday duties. This will of course bear some risks in terms of lack of exercising manual tasks and moving around less, which may lead to an unhealthy life style. Fortunately, this can be overcome by new exercises being provided using 3D virtual reality gear and some mechanical equipment for example to simulate flying a delta-glider.
Smart city technologies from around the world
On a large scale, the city of Malta was facing the challenge of water scarcity during summer due to many tourists visiting the island. Since there was not enough water on the island, they planned to expand desalination capacity to overcome the water shortage. This would have required an additional power plant too to provide enough electrical power for the desalination process.
Fortunately before doing so, they assessed the real need of water (in terms of billed water) and compared it to the quantity produced in the desalination plant. This revealed that there was a significant quantity lost somewhere in the system. So they decided to look for the losses and understand where the water went by using smart meters. Once they figured out where the water was lost, they fixed those “leaks” and were able to provide enough water even during the high season in summer.
This saved them investing in a desalination plant and an extra power. Subsequently, they are able to monitor the water flow much better in the future and predict demand and collect revenues based on real-time information.
Hamburg combines its various transportation systems in one umbrella service platform allowing travelers to choose the right mode of transportation on the fly. The platform, which of course can be accessed with an app, provides choices of different means of transportation in real time and allows to charge for them right through the app. Currently the platform offers bus, light rail, car sharing, taxi, rental car, bike sharing. This is going to be expanded and may involve scooters, pedelecs (pedal electric cycle) and many other new modes of transportation.
Hamburg Tourism offers an app, which provides location based audio guides, trip planning using real time public transport schedules and online booking.
The port of Hamburg is #2 in Europe and #14 of the world in terms of container turnover. Since the area of the port is limited by the borders of Hamburg increasing its capacity is only possible by increasing its productivity. Providing detailed information about each vessel is a key element to achieve this. The Hamburg Port Monitor provides information for all people involved in handling and moving vessels in real time and on various devices as needed. So it allows the largest container ships on earth to safely enter the port and maneuver to their berth.
A company based in Finland provides automated sensor driven waste collection services. Reducing cost by picking up waste containers when needed and optimizing routes according to fill levels of waste containers.
To create a modern and sustainable mobility, a startup launched the first scooter sharing worldwide in Hamburg. Like car sharing scooters are located using an app and the whole rental process is managed through the app. Scooter sharing is just another piece in the puzzle for a diverse mobility scheme offering a great variety of transportation options in Hamburg.
A technological startup launched an app, which combines all of the above mobility solutions in one app, but not limited to Hamburg.
In the end, having talked so much about technology, putting people first (not technology) should be the key criteria when embarking on a smarter city journey. This has to be applied to the participation process (how much digital do we need?) and the solutions which are being developed.
What does it mean for you to live in a smart city? Share your ideas in our comment section
Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.