By Darrell Crowe.
Smart Cities will be driven by Open Data access – but how do we access disparate data sets.
There is great talk of intelligent sensors and IOT in helping deliver smart cities. The commonly used description of a smart city is one that uses digital technologies or information and communication technologies (ICT) to enhance quality and performance of urban services, to reduce costs, resource consumption and to engage more effectively and actively with its citizens.
But what does this mean in reality for us citizens. The talk is of things like smart sensors on road and traffic lights that can be responsive to real traffic situations. That apparently instead of lights being set on traditional timed sequences they could be responsive to large traffic volumes and change the sequencing to improve traffic flow.
Street lights that would be dimmed if the streets are empty or the intensity increased if there are large volumes of people on the streets. A road with sensors that recognise the road temperature and communicate to your car to slow down.
These are wonderfully aspirational concepts. But how real and close are we to the delivery of such. I would argue like the self-ordering fridge these are aspirations that catch our imaginations but not the reality of where IOT and smart cities will deliver real visible change to us citzens.
Firstly, how much more will these ideas touch us personally and directly enhance the quality of our lives? These will become intangible and invisible to most of us in their impact. As we will normalise their outcomes. However significant the quantifiable benefits, they could and will potentially improve traffic flows marginally, improve safety but maybe frustrate us users as the ultimate gains are eroded by increasing road usage. But who will pay for the investment in these technologies to commercialise them?
The reality in my view is that the first phase of smart cities will be the collection and dissemination of information in an open source basis. As per open sources like android and IOS it will be the tech industry driven by commercial opportunities that will develop the real innovative solutions and not the municipalities. Just as Apple opened its eco systems to developers, which allowed the development of apps and brought usability to smartphones so will the opening up of data on our cities to developers allow for the creation of user based applications?
Let me expand upon this idea. Imagine a city where all of the travel data is available in open source data for any user FOC. Then imagine when stepping out of your front door in the morning you are told the actual travels times to your place of work by Car, Bicycle, Foot, Luas/Dart or Local bus, based on my location and real time information. Now instead of having to listen to the radio or Traffic reports, identifying traffic exceptions and maybe gestimating your travel times based on weather (i.e rain) you can make a real time choices or decisions on mode of travel based on real time geo located information. How interesting would this be for you or me, the municipality or other users if for example 50% of commuters discovered it was actually quicker to travel by bike or foot to their destination than by car or bus. Would this change behaviour? absolutely. If city cycle paths were designed using information from the city bikes showing routes actually travelled across and through or cities rather than designed by engineers to fit into our urban spaces and left unused. Local Hospitals planned staffed and resourced according to usage data geographical location of users rather than arbitrary geographical defined borders and budgets/resourcing based on historical practices.
Would this transform our cities to enhance quality and performance of urban services? yes, reduce costs and resource consumption, yes, engage us citizens more effectively and actively with our municipality’s infrastructure, very definitely yes.
But how do you collect information from disparate and often legacy systems such as water infrastructure, roads, buses, pedestrians or commuter trains etc. Firstly we will need thousands of sensors and data gathering points. Secondly we need to make this available in a common format in one source location or Do we? We have some this information already but in different formats take traffic info it is in video, traffic flow and densities speed etc, but is this gathered for bike and pedestrians I argue no? But the reality is we can’t gather all this data in one common format from legacy systems never designed to communicate in a common language or common format into one one large single searchable database. This task is too large and too cumbersome.
Alternatively we need to look at the internet and how Google and Yahoo manage data and information on the WEB. They don’t store all websites and information in one large database in a common format. Instead they make the web “Indexable” allowing searches in multiple ways defined not by the host Google but by us the user. This is how municipalities will and should be progressing with smart cities. Information is power. Once we have data in common searchable indexable formats we can use it to inform how we manage and control our cities. Technology companies will also develop innovative user based solutions.