City Smart: part 1

Just what makes smart cities so “smart”, and how can the resources sector benefit? Circular’s digital editor, Darrel Moore, takes a closer look at these emerging “greenscapes”, internationally and in the UK…

A growing population and increasing stress on infrastructure are causing local authorities to rethink how they provide services. Developments in software, hardware and telecom networks are enabling more interaction between people and places and more machine-to-machine communication.

Picture a city designed and built to the speciation of the people who live there. Imagine key infrastructure, whether that’s waste management, transport, energy – or any other public service – that uses advanced digital and telecommunications technology to reduce cost and resource consumption, as well as actively improving and enhancing the lives and experiences of its residents and visitors. This, in essence, is a “smart city”. Smart city solutions apply digital technologies to address social, environmental and economic goals; they can combine physical and digital infrastructure or can be based on digital infrastructure alone.

Didn’t know that until now? You wouldn’t be alone. According to an Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) survey1, public awareness of what a smart city actually is, and the benefits of the type of technology traditionally associated with smart cities, is relatively low. It found most people don’t understand the concept of a smart city, or how digital communications technology could improve their quality of life by enhancing infrastructure and public services.

Picture a city designed and built to the speciation of the people who live there. Imagine key infrastructure, whether that’s waste management, transport, energy – or any other public service – that uses advanced digital and telecommunications technology to reduce cost and resource consumption

The solution to this? According to the IET, it’s to promote lessons learned from pilots in order to help inspire and inform. Alan Howard, IET head of thought leadership says the waste sector has a massive role to play in smart cities.

“Global population is anticipated to grow to 10bn by 2050, by which time 75 percent of the world’s population will live in cities (more 50 percent at the moment). Urbanisation brings with it many challenges we have to face. How do we cope with more demands on already precious resources (both natural and man-made)? This is where the climate change debate kicks in: how to manage the demands of a growing population whilst at the same time reducing carbon emissions. There’s a massive role for the waste sector here.”

Using data sensors, smart city technologies will be able to respond in real-time to everyday events such as congestion, waste management, energy supply and more.

If you’re like me you’ll immediately have visions of ultramodern drones flying through the streets carrying away parcels of recycling for reprocessing. But in reality, how outlandish of a concept is it to have our residual waste collected only when the sensor in our bin tells the crew that it’s full? Or to have our washing machine tell us when’s best to use it to conserve energy – and then when it needs repairing or replacing it calls out a repairman automatically? What if we could track our individual recycling to see where it goes and how it’s used, and then receive a welcome discount in our energy bill because of the contribution we’ve personally made to the grid? What if recycling contamination became a thing of past, because our recycling containers tell us when an incorrect item had been placed inside?

Hopefully you can see where I’m going with this. The fundamental aspect of the smart city is about using the digital communications technology that is largely available today and applying it to the things around us – large or small – to help us become more efficient, resourceful and to above all improve quality of life.

Internet Of Things

IoT is being used to help prevent deforestation in the Amazon rainforest

The Internet of Things (IoT) is also a term you may have come across. Essentially, it is a system of interconnected computing devices, mechanical and digital machines, objects, animals or people that are provided with unique identifiers2, like the IP address given to each computer, and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction. This is important when talking about smart cities, because after all, what are cities, but a collection of “things” en mass.

A thing in the IoT can be anything you can think of – a person, an animal, a car, a building, a shoe, a tin of beans… literally anything that can be assigned an IP address and provided with the ability to transfer data over a network.

Although the concept wasn’t named until 1999, the IoT has been in development for decades. The first Internet appliance was apparently a Coke machine at Carnegie Melon University in the early 1980s. The programmers could connect to the machine over the Internet and check that there was a cold drink waiting for them before making the trip. Data from these real-time systems and sensors can be applied to us to discover what is happening in a city and to identify opportunities and challenges that may improve the delivery and efficiency of services.

If you were thinking that this type of technology is years away from being used in our own ordinary lives, you’d be wrong. You just have to look to the mobile phone in your pocket and the applications (apps) you use, the Nectar card or contactless payment card in your wallet. Most of us now use contactless payment like it’s always been around – and yet was introduced to the majority only last year – and as we speak more and more people are using their mobile phone devices to pay for items in place of bank cards. All of these things, as well as being extremely useful, gather digital information.

In one case, IoT is being used to help prevent deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. A Brazilian location-services company called Cargo Tracck places machine-to-machine sensors from security company Gemalto in trees in protected areas. When a tree is cut

or moved, the law enforcement receives a message with its GPS location, allowing authorities to track down the illegally removed tree.

The IoT is here; it is in the world right now. So… the questions becomes, what can we do with it?

Smart World

Developers claim the Songdo IBD pneumatic waste collection system is the “largest” in the world

Internationally, there are many cities that are either using the IoT and smart city technology to upgrade or expand an existing space, or there are those being purpose-built from the ground up, with the focused intention of implementing a smarter infrastructure right from the outset.

“The global growth of cities will be concentrated in Asia and Africa,” Howard says. “As a result, cities in the west will be overtaken in terms of their scale, population and consumption of resources (and the amount of waste they produce). So it’s really important that the waste sector engages globally.

“That said, even here in the west all cities need to get their act together, to cater for increasing populations, not least as people start to live and enjoy longer lives, to reduce consumption, to become low carbon. Retrofitting existing cities and urban communities won’t come easily or cheaply, that’s for sure. Cities need to start doing things smarter and that requires both joined-up thinking and joint action.”

Songdo – going underground

Songdo’s International Business District (Songdo IBD) was built from scratch on 1,500 acres of reclaimed land along Incheon’s waterfront, 40 miles southwest of Seoul, South Korea. Songdo IBD is the largest private real estate development in history to date. By its completion in 2015, the district was planned to contain 80,000 apartments, 5,000,000 square metres of office space and 900,000 square metres of retail space. Computers have been built into the houses, streets, and offices as part of a wide area network3.

Songdo has been designed with sensors to monitor temperature, energy use and traffic flow. These sensors can tell residents when their bus is due or let the local authority know about any problems. The district has charging stations for electric cars, a water-recycling system that prevents clean drinking water being used to flush office toilets and it has

a pneumatic waste management system that is completely underground – developers have called this the “largest” pneumatic waste collection system in the world.

You’ll find no waste collection trucks trawling the streets and no containers outside of people’s houses. All household waste is sucked directly from individual kitchens through the underground network of tunnels to waste processing centres, where it’s automatically sorted and treated.

The city’s cogeneration plant captures waste heat off electrical generation equipment to provide hot water to residents and businesses. The capture and utilisation of this waste heat from the electrical generation process allows the plant to achieve efficiency levels of over 80 percent, nearly twice the efficiency of stand-alone electrical generation plants, according to developers. It’s hoped citywide water recycling will reach 40 percent and waste recycling 76 percent by the year 20204.

Songdo is the first district in South Korea to receive Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) accreditation, and the largest non-US project to be included in the LEED Neighbourhood Development Pilot Plan. This means the entire development adheres to the strictest environmental standards for energy consumption and waste.

Rio de Janeiro’s Operation Cente: the video wall in the Centre displays live information from 560 cameras

Rio de Janeiro – command central

With Rio de Janeiro hosting this year’s Olympics, the world’s eyes are inevitably focused towards the city. Rio is surrounded by steep hillsides on which most of its favelas, the shanty towns, are built. Up to 20 percent of Rio’s inhabitants – of which there are 6.3m – live in favelas, and many of them are at risk of landslides. But believe it or not, this city is home to a highly ambitious integrated urban command centre.

In 2010, the city mayor commissioned IBM to set up an Operations Centre following a storm that killed 68 people5. Before the centre, city departments were spread all over the city, but now more than 20 city agencies are integrated into one central command centre, where they can see in real-time what’s happening around the city and quickly find solutions to problems. The result is a 30 percent drop in emergency response times.

The video wall in the Centre displays live information from 560 cameras, a weather forecasting system and a smart map capable of analysing 60 different layers of data streamed from sensors around the city. The giant wall monitor is broken into a grid of status graphs, meteorological reports and live video feeds from traffic and surveillance cameras. There are Google satellite and street maps networked to the city’s information systems, which staff can toggle for close-ups and additional data overlays.

A map might show the present location of every city bus, the nearest hospitals to an emergency or designated at-risk areas during storms. Information is shared in real-time between city staff from various departments – from transportation to sanitation, health to emergency services – as well as with the private waste collectors6,7.

In March 2014, waste collectors went on strike during the famous Carnival, leaving parts of the city’s waste uncollected. Using the Operations Centre, other city workers and contractors were reassigned to assist with the collection.

Barcelona – global smart city 2015

Bar uses technology such as sensors that utilise mobile apps

Barcelona was named “Global Smart City 2015”, prevailing over New York, London, Nice and Singapore, according to analysts in the mobile and digital technology sector, Juniper Research.

It considered that the Spanish city performed well across subjects like smart grids – an electricity supply network that uses digital communications technology to detect and react to local changes in usage – and smart traffic management. The company also took into account information dealing with smart street lighting and each city’s technological capability and social cohesion, among other items.

The city uses technology such as sensors that utilise mobile apps to tell visitors and residents where there are parking spaces available, paints that absorb polluting gases and a pneumatic underground waste collection system.

While Barcelona was recognised for implementing environmentally sustainable projects, the research found that other leading cities, such as New York and London, still require greater emphasis on this area, despite excelling in areas such as technological capability and a willingness to engage with citizens through open data, the company says.

Juniper concluded that smart grid initiatives will achieve more than €9.5bn savings annually by 2019 based on a combination of reduced energy consumption and the reduction of emissions in smart cities8.

The second in our special feature on smart cities will look at smart cities in the UK.


  3. District


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