02 October 2019

Cities of the future

Local Government News talks to Steve Austin, systems architect, UK & Ireland, at Signify to find out how councils can create a city that is truly smart by integrating different systems into one central location:

Q: What constitutes a truly smart city and when will they become a reality?

Mr Austin: A true smart city is the integration of a variety of many systems that are currently deployed within a local authority or municipality. A city will have a lot of different systems collecting valuable data, but what makes a city truly smart is when it’s possible to combine the individual systems into one central system, so those managing it get a fully holistic view. This allows them to make informed, data-driven decisions, instead of having to navigate multiple individual data streams.

A perfect example of this would be smart street lighting. It is possible to have lighting that utilises motion sensors – tracking footfall in the immediate environment and varying the light level depending on people or vehicular movement, which leads to more efficient lighting and can help reduce energy usage. Lighting can also be dynamically controlled when that data is integrated with other information collected by smart poles which offer environmental monitoring. This combined view of data allows city managers to make more informed decisions that can have a more tangible, positive impact for citizens and businesses.

With the wide use of camera systems in the UK, camera analytics are increasingly being exploited in the development of a smart city. City managers and urban planners recognise that cameras are no longer just about security but can be integrated into other systems - for example, lighting systems where footfall is analysed in certain parts of the city, and tailoring lighting levels needed at different times.

An essential area where this integration is really coming to life is with the wider adoption of electric vehicles. Having integrated data-sharing in a city will let citizens track charging point locations, where cars are charging and at what times – letting them adapt plans according to user needs for things like future charging stations, or increasing lighting responsively when a charging point is being utilised.

We’re already starting to see these smart city innovations now. Signify are currently conducting interim pilots with Highways England where interactive dynamic lighting is used to control sections of lighting on the M4 motorway based on the volume of vehicles. Interact City not only allows changing lighting levels based on historical data, but also makes it possible to measure real-time traffic flow and integrate this back into the central lighting system to adapt lighting levels on the road in real time.

Q: What is holding back the arrival of smart cities?

Mr Austin: Simply put – investment.

The hardest part for businesses is taking a first step into a sector where people have never really spent money before. Today it’s not easy to join the dots or see immediately what value the combined system data can offer a city – however, many municipalities have shown enthusiasm to do something but are not always certain where to take the first step.

The role of IT and digital transformation technologies is to push boundaries of possibility. There is so much potential in the space of smart cities, but for those with the power to install it, the choice can be overwhelming and actually impede the development of a smart city agenda.

My advice: Put innovation into the market that is already a reality and easy to implement, and watch the cities of the future unfold.

This feature first appeared in Local Government News magazine.

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