Cities with intelligence and sense

by Mikako Kuwajima – allmapdata solutions consultant


5 technology innovations already changing urban life

There are few fully functioning smart cities, if any. What we’re really talking about is the application of technology to solve problems.

Tom Cheesewright, Applied Futurist

Living cities and urban innovation are better than smart cities

The problem with talking about smart cities is that the term has become associated with a world of big brother and big data. Citizens don’t like the idea of faceless corporates and computers running their urban worlds. To get away from this sinister overtone, tech innovators and urban futurists are talking about “urban innovation” and the “living city”.

It’s more than just a PR makeover. Smart cities are conceptual. In real life, there’s seldom the opportunity to start from a blank space and build a fully connected, integrated, smooth-flowing city, with all the buildings and infrastructure custom-designed.

Three are some ground-up smart city areas, attracting investment from technology, business and research firms. But they’re more like development labs, trialling a range of infrastructures, design principles and services in a sterile environment to see if they work. Applying them in living cities, with their existing and imperfect layouts, populations and routines, is a different matter.

What we need is realistic thinking about how to retroactively apply technology to enhance and optimise life in the cities we already have. The real world “smart city” is evolving – and involving the people who live and work there, using data they create and share.

In living cities, we need to solve the current and emerging challenges of urban existence one by one, using sensor technology, geospatial modelling, artificial intelligence, 3D printing and cutting-edge design. The aim is to create safe, healthy, flexible, affordable and pleasant spaces for living and working, with efficient connectivity and free-flowing transit systems for people, goods and services.

And it’s already happening. Here are 5 examples of live urban innovation.

  1. Electric delivery vehicles

UPS has worked with UK-based technology firm ARRIVAL to develop a pilot fleet of 35 electric delivery vehicles in London and Paris. These zero tailpipe emission, lightweight composite vehicles have a battery range of more than 150 miles. The vehicles are equipped with Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) to help improve safety and reduce driver fatigue. A highly advanced vehicle display gives drivers and customers an intelligent and connected vehicle and delivery service.  

  1. Integrated public transport app

In the West Midlands, the WHIM mobile app allows users to book, pay for and use buses, trams, taxis, rental bikes and hire cars from one platform. It’s designed to get cars off the streets of Birmingham by making it easy for citizens to make journeys using a tailored combination of transport methods.

  1. Digital waste management

The city of Santander, Spain, uses more than 6,000 Internet of Things (IoT) devices with sensors, RFiD and NFC tags, to improve urban waste management. They deliver real-time information about the location and fill level of rubbish bins and containers. Responding to this, GPS tracking optimises routes for municipal vehicles collecting waste. The vehicles also carry environmental sensors gathering information about air quality, temperature and humidity.

  1. Smart lighting technology

A new type of networked streetlight matches brightness to motion across the Manchester Science Centre campus. V-MAX generates a ‘bubble of light’ effect – lights are turned up in time with a person’s progress along their route. The space in front of is lit just before you get to it; the space behind dims as you move further from it. You don’t have to walk into darkness and you don’t leave darkness directly behind you. It’s safer and more comfortable for campus users and helps reduce energy consumption.

  1. Air quality improvements from digital analytics

In Newcastle, scientists at Catapult Future Cities have used time series analysis and geospatial statistics to demonstrate that temporary road closures significantly improve air quality in the centre of Newcastle during selected weekends. Annual NO2 averages around Blackett Street have exceeded EU limits for the last four years. This type of scheme can help tackle the common urban problem of air pollution, which can affect public health and damage city buildings and facilities.

How will these kinds of developments affect your business? How can you harness similar technologies and approaches? What can you do to influence urban innovation? It’s an exciting time for leaders in transit and logistics organisations: we have the opportunity to shape the future of our cities and make life and work better for their inhabitants and workforces.