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Smart cities? It’s all about the smart citizens

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Smart cities Its all about the smart citizens

We need to take a human-centred approach to smart cities, writes Christopher Clements of PwC.

Smart cities often come with an intake of breath. The very mention can get some nervous people thinking Big Brother state and all actions and movements will be monitored, data will be wide open, and robots will roam the street – some may be genuine concerns.

Some cities, such as Amsterdam, have made reducing traffic and street light usage as some of their main initiatives. The concept of ‘smart traffic management’ monitors traffic in real time, and travel time on roads is broadcast to allow motorists to decide the most efficient routes to take. Other cities, such as Barcelona, have also implemented traffic-reducing concepts.

Another example is Santa Cruz, where local authorities analyse crime data to predict law-and-order requirements, ensuring police presence is available where it is required at any point. Analytical tools generate lists of places where property crimes are more likely to occur and place police officers in these locations when there are no emergency calls.

‘For a smart city to flourish, there needs to be innovation and creativity’

Probably most major cities are terming themselves as ‘smart cities’ or involved in a ‘smart city’ initiative.

The key concept of all existing successful smart city initiatives is that they appear human-driven. For a smart city to flourish, there needs to be innovation and creativity. There needs to be problems identified to solve, problems that are affecting the citizens’ lives, real issues.

The resulting technology and solutions that prevail are the outcomes – they don’t make that city smart, they enable the city to better serve its citizens.

In essence, the smart city concept is a misnomer; what it really is, is smart citizens.

Inclusion of humans is integral to the outcomes a smart city realises. In Amsterdam, the residents are encouraged to promote ideas and initiatives through annually run competitions. An example is Mobypark, which allows owners of parking spaces to rent them out to people for a fee. The data generated from this app can then be used by the city to determine the parking demand and traffic flows in the city mentioned above.

On attending the 4IRC meet-up on ‘IoT: Smart City or Surveillance City?’, I was struck by two things:

  • the volume of ideas and concepts from the speakers was wide-ranging
  • they were just that: ideas

That may sound harsh but the concept of smart cities has been knocking about for a while now, under various guises and having differing conditions.

On listening to the talks at the meet-up, the Belfast Council initiative on smart cities is far-reaching and it has the potential to be fantastic, as long as it’s a human-centred approach to a smart city; in other words, letting the citizens outline the issues and be the beneficiaries of the outcomes.

Belfast as a smart city has to be more than a better internet connection, ‘smart bikes’ or a rapid transport system. It has to aim for more.

If we look at the example of e-Estonia: a true beacon of a country, not just a city, that has embraced not just the resultant technical outcomes, but engaged in the problems that needed to be solved. 99pc of public services are now available online to Estonian citizens.

Belfast has a challenge ahead of it. Can it take a human-centred approach to creating a smart city and solve real problems affecting people’s lives?

Maybe the outcomes won’t be technical or anchored in technology at all; maybe some of the solutions will make Belfast a unique smart city in that it solves real problems but not via technology.

Smart City

Moscow introduces blockchain e-voting to overhaul smart-city plans

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Moscow introduces blockchain e-voting to overhaul smart-city plans

The Moscow local government is looking to implement an often-discussed idea: an e-voting system built on blockchain.

While many issues have been raised (particularly in Ireland) surrounding e-voting and the potential for corruption or data security issues, the local government of Moscow is to plough ahead and test a new e-voting system built on blockchain.

Since 2014, the Active Citizen project has enabled almost 2m Muscovites to influence city management decisions and urban planning, but now it plans to overhaul the older online system by trialling blockchain e-voting.

Blockchain e-voting means a person’s vote would be timestamped with details of their last vote thanks to the encrypted algorithm, while an illegitimate one would be spotted more easily by a digital system, or even those within digital-savvy communities.

Moscow city officials claimed this would make it the first city in the world to implement blockchain in e-voting on such a large scale, but countries such as Estonia have already trialled blockchain-based e-voting for various state services.

Until now, the Active Citizen project and users could only receive election results through the website.

When every citizen becomes a node on the blockchain, however, Muscovites will be able to count the votes up and verify the authenticity of results in real time, thanks to its ability to create smart contracts.

Aims for 2m users

The Moscow government said that every vote in Active Citizen will become a smart contract, which is “publicly viewable and transparent” but just shows that the person has voted.

Once the vote is placed, it will be listed in a ledger consisting of all votes cast across a peer-to-peer network.

It said this will guarantee that the data will not be lost or altered by someone after the vote is made, meaning there is no chance for fraud or third-party interference.

“We are excited to improve credibility and transparency of e-voting system in Moscow by introducing blockchain,” said Artem Ermolaev, Moscow’s CIO.

“We believe that blockchain will increase trust between the citizens and the government. We aim to hit 2m users in the near future who are ready to influence the city life.”

If all goes well, Moscow will replicate it on other IT projects in the city.

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Kogii lights the way ahead for smart city cyclists

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Kogii lights the way ahead for smart city cyclists

Our Start-up of the Week, Kogii, is developing an innovative and feature-rich smart bike light to improve real-time safety for cyclists.

“Kogii is a smart light that uses integrated sensors to understand what makes a dangerous road dangerous for cyclists,” Kogii co-founder Karl Roe explained.

“There have been many innovations in the cycling industry that improve real-time visibility and safety, but there is very little real-world data that allows us to learn about what makes one road more dangerous than another.”

Kogii aims to change that, by collecting completely anonymous data about a cyclist’s surroundings as they cycle.

The market

“Initially, we’re going to target cyclists, particularly cyclists who are interested in technology,” said Roe. “Any cyclist that is looking to invest in a really good product is a potential customer.

“We plan to expand by conducting a large crowdfunding campaign to really boost the company, and we want to also target governments/councils who will be interested in the data we collect to improve road safety.”

Karl Roe is a PhD researcher at University College Dublin (UCD) with a master’s degree in computer science.

Andrea Pignanelli is a software engineer at a major tech company in Dublin and also has a master’s degree in computer science from UCD.

Callan Eldon is an electronic and mechanical engineer from Dublin Institute of Technology.

The venture was recently declared overall winner of the 2018 UCD Startup Stars Programme for student entrepreneurs and received a €3,000 cash prize.

This followed a four-week mentoring programme at NovaUCD. The aim of this mentoring programme is to assist the participating students in refining their start-up ideas through a series of structured workshops, including taught content from industry experts, interactive workshops and regular pitching sessions.

The technology

Kogii looks at how the cyclist is moving, along with their external environment. When the data from these two variables is combined, really interesting things about our roads can be learned.

“We want to look at the cyclist’s surroundings and see how their behaviour/movement changes depending on the environment,” said Roe.

“For example, if we see there are a lot of falls, dramatic swerves and sudden braking in a region where there are many close interactions with cars, we can deduce that area of road is dangerous. We aim to combine this data with locations of reported crashes and fatalities in the past to further verify our analysis and predictions.

“Ultimately, we want Kogii lights in every city where there are cyclists. The technology we have is fully scalable, and we hope one day to have a map where you can visualise all dangerous roads in every city. Even if one accident is prevented, or one life is saved, anywhere in the world, we’ve achieved our ultimate goal.”

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Are smart cities watching our every move?

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Are smart cities watching our every move

Is your city spying on you? TechWatch editor Emily McDaid reports from the latest 4IRC debate, which focused on smart cities and surveillance.

Below, we’ve recapped the smart cities event held on 12 June at Belfast’s Oh Yeah Music Centre.

Host Eimear Maguire said: “Is your city helping you be an active citizen, or is it just watching your every move?

“Some statistics about Belfast: there will be 70,000 more residents and 50,000 more people working in the city by 2030.

“Citizen data should encourage movement for everyone in that city. However, it’s getting harder for people to move through a city as the population grows.

“How is data being collected; how is it being used?”

Speaker: Deirdre Ferguson, senior consultant, Smart Belfast, Belfast City Council

We lead a range of urban innovation projects.

Some statistics about the Belfast Agenda:

  • There will be 66,000 new residents by 2035
  • We aim for a 33pc reduction in the life expectancy gap between the most and least deprived neighbourhoods in Belfast by 2035
  • We want to see that 100pc of young people leaving school have a destination that fulfils their potential
  • 46,000 more jobs by 2035

You can review the initiative at Smartbelfast.city.

We want to harness tech, innovation and data for the benefit of our citizens, and to deliver on the major ambitions that we have in the Belfast agenda. That’s what we’re talking about when we talk about Belfast as a smart city. A smart city isn’t really about having technology at the core … it’s about the citizen.

Modern digital infrastructure – to promote a city where people have the right skills to create value from the technologies that not only exist already, but emerging ones. We’re trying to apply this to city problems:

  • Child poverty on the increase
  • High number of young people leaving school without qualifications
  • Belfast is top of the UK cities for traffic congestion
  • Air quality, impacts on health
  • Health problems, growing ageing population
  • We still have 100 peace walls dividing the city

We’re supporting urban innovation through:

  • City Wi-Fi
  • Full fibre bid (we just won a new bid)
  • We’ve applied to be a 5G testbed (DCMS bid submitted today – we’ll know in July)
  • Drone technologies
  • Immersive technologies
  • We’re in the Rockefeller 100 Resilient Cities, drawing in millions of pounds of investment from the Rockefeller network
  • City deal: We’re making a major bid in conjunction with five other local authorities and will hopefully bring £1bn to make changes in digital infrastructure, innovation, tourism and skills. We’re working very hard to get that bid together
  • Last-mile delivery: Working with Dublin City Council about the delivery of parcels

Smart is about people; technology comes second. It’s about putting people at the heart of everything we do.

Smart city or surveillance city? We very much address this from technology up.

What makes a city smart? How do we get the technology in, connect everything together and make sense out of it? We just haven’t made the most of this in a city scale or a regional scale.

We take data from sensors and use it to govern an environment. It brings up a lot of questions about who owns that data.

There are four different types of data we can monitor: video, sensor, activity, physiological.

Video shows exactly how you’re in the environment. We can look at how a person interacts with someone else, how doors open, who sits on a seat, how many people enter a room or leave a room.

Fine data that we can gather, and analysis of the data, can show things about behaviour. For instance, monitoring someone’s heart rate. If it shoots up dramatically, if we knew that person just ran up the steps three times – by seeing it on a video, it wouldn’t trigger any alarm.

Data, for me, is the most valuable commodity that we have. The more high-quality data we can avail of, the better analysis we can do.

Rapid prototyping – if we’re thinking about a smart city, the first thing my comment would be is, we don’t really have a smart city, from a tech point of view. We spend too much time talking about the problem and not enough time spent delivering solutions. We need to be more agile – rapid prototyping is necessary.

Until we get the solutions rolled out on a larger scale, we might not understand the positive or negative impact they might have.

Smart or surveillance? It depends on what a person is comfortable with. Higher-resolution video means better data.

We’re building a network where people and things go to talk.

Within the IoT, in the next 24 hours, 8.6m devices will connect. And €1.9bn will be spent in transactions by people and devices.

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