Talking smart city solutions

By Vinnett Taylor Head of M2M and IoT Specialists 

A recent panel discussion set up to examine smart city solutions to urban transport challenges in Bristol threw up a number of interesting ideas around the on-going advancement of smart cities and the technology that is driving the phenomenon.  Bristol is pioneering much of this development thanks to a partnership between the council and the university, which, with infrastructure established some years ago, is looking to m2m technology to facilitate and manage real life challenges faced by the city and its citizens.

M2m allows devices to exchange information without human intervention, so technology can adjust according to immediate requirements with no need for manual input.  In Newcastle, smart traffic light systems are already operational to improve traffic flow, so signal patterns can change according to traffic demands rather than stopping traffic when there is no need and slowing everything down.

For Bristol, one of the key challenges is traffic management and parking, as existing public transport services are unable to meet demands.  Vehicle to vehicle and vehicle to infrastructure communication is imminent, with the development of connected cars and projects like GATEway in Greenwich, awarded by Innovate UK under their £10m competition entitled ‘Introducing driverless vehicles to UK roads’ to deliver demonstrations of automated vehicles in urban environments.  The possibility of cars that can park automatically and make better use of available space is becoming a reality.  In fact m2m technology is already serving communities in various ways, such as smart waste collections, mobile ticketing and smart streetlights.

Ultimately smart city development is intended to improve day to day processes for citizens, so they should be involved in identifying the problems that m2m solutions can fix. It is fundamental that citizens are engaged too, as none of the benefits will be realised unless it is a collaborative effort, involving public opinion, consumer groups, local businesses, local councils and government ministers.  Indeed, this week’s budget prioritises innovation and allocates £100 million to driverless cars and £40 million to the Internet of Things, proving that it is firmly on the government’s agenda and smart city initiatives like the one in Bristol are actually ahead of the trend.

As an increasing amount of data is collected through more connected devices, the use of this data and how it is stored will require thought.  In general people are happy for such data to be collected, but anonymity and permissions for use will be called into question.  Even classifying data ownership is a challenge with technology providers, local councils and the individual potentially having a claim to it. In any case, a clear legal framework is required to ensure the management and use of data by service providers has the confidence of citizens and users.

Smart City evolution relies on this collaborative approach and it is imperative that the relevant parties keep communicating to establish what exactly is required to best serve the local community and how it can be implemented effectively  It is important now to think about what isn’t yet connected and why.  That was clear in my participation in the discussion. m2m solutions to develop and enhance smart cities are certainly in existence, they simply need to be applied to current problems faced by citizens and efficiently managed to maximise the benefits.