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Located just 120 miles from the west of London and the largest city in the south west of England, Bristol could be at the forefront of Britain’s aim to encourage smart cities. More than half the world’s population now live in urban areas and this number is forecast to rise to 70 per cent by 2050. Over the past few years there has been an ongoing trend of rapid urbanisation, climate change and resource exhaustion which requires attention and a solution from cities in the UK.
The market potential for smart products/solutions themselves is huge and these smart solutions provide a substance for further growth in traditional design and engineering services. It is estimated that the global market for smart city solutions and the additional services required to arrange them will be $408 billion by 2020.
“The UK is one of the top five nations with a smart city agenda”
Ed Vaizey, Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy
The joint venture between Bristol City Council and Bristol University has opened up data sets to the general public permitting around 200 anonymised data-sets on pollution, energy use and health. This information will be gathered and transmitted using a network compromising 1,500 radio linked lampposts, hundreds of kilometres of fibre-optic cable running under the city’s streets, and a mile-long stretch of public Wi-Fi spots.
But what can we do with this information? The possibilities are endless and the benefits are great. The use of this information can allow us to optimise our resources and to discover how to make more informed decisions with these resources, consequently lowering our consumption.
The Bristol initiative has an open source code allowing developers to test their own ideas, with suggestions including smart ambulances and smart bins already put forward. This would open links to traffic management systems, free up road space and reduce high levels of pollution alike. Although Sanjay Sethi, managing director, EMEA, at Citi argues, “London has to be the driver…The basic infrastructures and the resolve is there, and the ideas coming through are fantastic. It’s now about everyone coming together and implementing those plans.”
Smart technologies will eradicate many common city challenges that we face on a day-to-day basis but also provide opportunities for new services. Recent history will demonstrate that barriers for this type of initiative have included funding and leadership (which some argue still remain).
Organisations like Future Cities Catapult, conferences like Britain’s Smart Cities and events like Designing Future Cities are providing this leadership and the push needed to develop, collaborate and prototype ideas and business models to ‘improve quality of life, strengthen economies and protect the environment’. Cities Lab run by Future Cities Catapult provides data analysis, modelling and visualisation capabilities to understand and elucidate city problems.
Though Caroline Gorski (Head of Business Development for the Internet of Things at Telefónica), argues “we are thinking about smart cities, but not smart citizens…we will struggle to get user stakeholder unless it is user-led” as she explained that the telecoms company that is working with many authorities to provide the networking grids to share data.
However, we are some way from experiencing fully integrated smart cities and when this time comes we will no doubt have the age old discussion about data-protection. Critics will naturally fear that technology will take over and the data protection jurisdiction will fail to keep up with the fast pace implementation of technology. The question is, can Bristol be the first city to pioneer this change and encourage other cities to follow suit or will the capital take over? Either way the most crucial point of the smart city projects is to always keep the end users in mind.