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Smart Cities Driving Smarter Citizens – Information Empowerment in the Networked Metropolis

Dan Ginger Tuesday, 20 January 2015.

The city is becoming smarter. As the Internet of Things (IoT) develops, technology becomes engrained in our everyday lives, and infiltrates the ways that we move, eat, sleep, play, and so on. Sensors permeate every facet of a modern life – monitoring rates and charting data for future use in informatics and analytics platforms, aiming to further improve our experience and abilities in organising everyday life.

shutterstock 28415320Core infrastructure projects in global cities are increasingly utilising technologies for these ends – a fantastic example being the Crossrail project in London, which will be exhibited at the 2015 EntrepreneurCountry Global Forum to be held on February 3rd. As infrastructure programmes enable the networking of city ecosystems – crucial spaces for social, economic and political interlinkage, they allow for the simplification of network flows which allow for new transactions to be made – deepening the urban agglomeration and enabling all of the benefits of city living and working. This article seeks to investigate the various facets through which urban infrastructure projects are becoming 'smart' – organising the city ecosystem around big data. Particularly, we look at the social, economic and environmental factors where technologies embedded in infrastructure programmes are influencing the workings of the urban space.

Economically, smart technologies in infrastructural projects are crucial. They allow for the tracking of passengers or users and their commercial activities, and for the inference of economic activity and flows across the travel space. For example, the tracking of passport scans at Heathrow Airport's border control provides much data – from this we are able to understand that passenger numbers increased by 2.3million from 2012 to 2013, and that the airport's contribution to the UK economy rose by £219million to reach £6.58billion per year in the same period. From each entry into the country, analytics can deduce the most popular reasons for travel, nationalities of passengers and lengths of stay – amongst other insightful data points, which can then be used to create informative statistics such as those above. Furthermore, the Crossrail project will incorporate sensors that indicate where the line is most busy, which over time will build up a picture of where the most important stations are and what types of people use certain routes. With up to 1500 passengers on each train, the amount of data collected is set to be colossal. Correlating this data across multiple variables will show what the driving forces are behind this distribution, and allow us to produce economic reports on activity across the capital and what they can be attributed to. Smart cities enable a larger quantity, and better quality of consumer data.

The IoT is also becoming increasingly important regarding environmental management and impacts of infrastructures in urban centres. As the environmental discourse grows and global cities make individual commitments to reducing Greenhouse Gas (GHGs) emissions and improving sustainability – for example the aim to reduce GHG emissions by 80percent by 2050, the monitoring of rates and levels to track these targets have increased in prevalence. Again, the Crossrail project has pioneered some core smart technologies that allow infrastructure projects to build up datasets on the environmental impacts of urban life. Through analysing usage amounts, the project will notify energy agencies at peak times to allow them to reallocate and make decisions on energy usage across the grid. For example, Farringdon Station has saved over 516tonnes of CO2 in two years just as a result of changing the power distribution board. Similarly, innovations in engineering allow for optimal braking and acceleration patterns on trains - saving energy. The understandings of the environmental impacts of building have significantly improved through the design innovation scheme, using sensors to map the surrounding areas and build the first fully-interactive 3D model of the tunnel system. Transport contributes up to 15% of global emissions and is the only sector in which emissions continue to rise – through innovative and smart solutions, we can better understand how to tackle this.

Finally, smart cities will have huge impacts on the way that people interact with the urban space, and move through it. Socially, this will make a large difference to accessibility and the experience of transportation through an urban area – which in many cases is a derived demand as opposed to an inherently pleasant time. The 65 new trains under construction for the Crossrail project will host technologies designed to integrate the new line with existing infrastructures – adding to the networked effect of the city. The quality of information provided to the passenger will be the major improvement here, as data from elsewhere in the network will allow consumers to make more informed decisions about the remainder of their journey. Interactive screens will line the platforms, with the potential to direct passengers to parts of the train with the most seats, before it has even reached the station. These will also make journey planning more simple and help to make sense of the often complex logistics of such an urban network. Similarly, the Surrey Real-Time Passenger Information System tracks individual buses via GPS systems to provide information at the next stop as to when it will arrive. This technology is now evident in up to half of urban bus stops in the UK, and the UK Technology Strategy Board is set to invest up to £5million in location-based services, incentivising similar improvements. A smarter city makes for a smarter citizen, which drives social and individual prosperity.

We have shown here how urban infrastructure projects have successfully utilised digital technologies in order to improve information systems and to inform improvement and further utility of their services. Cities are networked and interlinked entities where infrastructure becomes vital for social and economic mobility, hence using technology to monitor and act upon this data collected is rightfully becoming a prominent feature of new projects. The smart city paradigm will evolve at the IoT grows and these networks develop. Projects like Crossrail use these technologies well in working towards government targets and in empowering various social and commercial groups with data and analytics that they require to improve their operations.

Hear more about Smart Cities and Crossrail at the 2015 EntrepreneurCountry Forum. Buy your tickets here!

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Dan Ginger

Dan Ginger

Dan joined entrepreneurcountry in November 2014, following the award of a First-Class BA (Hons.) degree in Geography from Keble College, The University of Oxford. Alongside writing articles for EntrepreneurCountry, Dan works as an Analyst for the Ariadne Capital team, and is particularly interested in the development of global emerging markets.

LinkedIn Profile: http://uk.linkedin.com/pub/daniel-ginger/5a/b62/804
Twitter: @DanGinge

 

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