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Smart Cities are the future.

Across the globe, cities are quietly undergoing a digital revolution to improve the environmental, financial and social aspects of urban living.

A key driver of this transformation is urbanisation; experts have predicted that by 2050, more than 60% of the world’s population is expected to live in cities and the goal is to make them better places to live.

Smart cities utilise the Internet of Things (IoT) to connect components, systems and products across urban settlements to derive data and improve the lives of citizens and visitors.

This connects every layer of a city, from the air to the street to underground, helping avoid traffic jams, find parking spots and even report potholes or overflowing bins.

According to the latest data, Bristol and London are the top two UK destinations for Smart City developments – but will the digital transformation of our communities come at the cost of jeopardising our safety and security?

Here, Auto Futures looks at the rise of Smart Cities in the UK and examines the pros and cons of what lies ahead.

Stu Higgins

How Will Smart Cities Help Me Live Better?

Stuart Higgins is the man leading Cisco’s Smart Cities efforts across the UK and Ireland.

To him it’s all about ‘frictionless cities’: “How do you remove the day-to-day hassles from people’s lives?” That could be anything from improving congestion, improving air quality; it could be about lighting, it could be about parking which is typically associated with smart cities.”

‘’But equally, it could be about people travelling in different ways. It could be about getting better access to health services. It could be about better access to education.’’

The advent of the internet means more and more devices are going to be connected – everything from wearables to vehicles.

According to research carried out by Cisco, by 2025, nine million “things an hour” will be connected globally.

Connectivity is at the heart of Smart Cities and Higgins revealed the technology can be tailored to fit any type of town – young or old.

“Last year Cisco sponsored the Great Exhibition of the North, where we launched the Smart Street. In Newcastle, we implemented technology into a major street to monitor air quality, smart parking, and smart lighting. We put sensors in bins and put CCTV cameras up which helped us gather data from traffic that allowed us to build a predictive model on when the road surface would fail.”

Equally, on the South Coast, Higgins and his team are working on a project in Fawley, which has an old 1960s oil-fired power station on it, building a new ‘intelligent merchant city’ from the ground up.

“This shows the two extremes in the UK – within 300 miles of each other,” he says. “A brand new place where you can use digital technology for everything and an old industrial place where you’ve got to fit things around an existing state.’’

Smart Cities as a term has been around since the start of the decade, but the concept is still regarded as being in the embryonic stage.

However, this has not deterred foreign technology companies from setting up a base in the UK to take advantage of the progress the country is making in this field.

Daniele Russolillo, COO and Deputy CEO of Planet Smart City, an Italian company which now has a base in London.

Daniele Russolillo

The company’s mission is to develop large affordable residential real estate projects in countries enriched with smart technology and social innovation practices.

“The presence in the UK is strategic,” he says. “London is constantly mentioned in league tables as being among the top-tier for smart city developments in the world. ’The UK is also an interesting country for affordable houses, demand and the policies that allow technology to move forward.’’

The Turf War Over Data and Why Cyber Security is Critical

For every person that champions smart mobility, there will be residents who argue that the technology infringes on their freedom.

The key, says Higgins, is to “show the benefit’’ adding: “Someone will come out with a fantastic new application for waste management and then immediately, someone will criticise it and say ‘now you know how much stuff I’m putting in my bin, or you know where I’m parking, or when I’m out of the house. It’s that terrible thing of people being centred around themselves. It’s ‘what’s in it for me?’”

Higgins is happy for his Apple watch and Garmin cycle computer to collects lots of data on his health. He also believes that, in this case, the benefits outweigh the negatives.

“Through this, I can share data with my doctor that can potentially help them with things like my general health. So, for me, there’s a benefit in doing that – the benefit outstrips the mistrust of me saying why would I give my doctor that data.’’

Ultimately, how the data is handled and who it belongs to is paramount moving forward as Smart Cities take shape.

Using the analogy of the character played by actor and comedian Benny Hill in the 1969 film The Italian Job who was able to shut the city down by changing the lights, Higgins says the scene is now a reality due to technology, connectivity and the rise of Smart Cities.

“Now as things become more connected that [scene] is absolutely a reality, so you have to protect those networks and that data. Cyber security is absolutely critical. The term should be Smart Secure Cities, or Secure Smart Cities.’’

A future where a turf war exists between companies over who owns the consumer data used to create Smart Cities will become commonplace. Higgins adds: “What you choose to do with that [information] as a City or a private organisation, or as a university, that’s up to you.

“So, some of the organisations in our marketplace they want to own the data because if you own or manage the data it makes you incredibly powerful. I advise everybody I speak to, to insist that the data belongs to you, not to your provider. If you can’t find providers prepared to sign up to that, you should find someone else to work with.’’

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