Connected city: Get out of the silos!
The full article was initially published in German in the 03.2014 edition of Urban 2.0.
Cities are booming, which raises the question: how can we continue to meet urban dwellers’ needs? The connected city offers a promising solution. But this is not a one‑size-fits-all answer – it requires cities and technology providers to put in a lot of strategy work and come up with new ways of thinking.
Cities have always held a powerful attraction for people, yet life amid the hustle and bustle has changed over the centuries. Whereas medieval settlements fit neatly inside a continuous city wall, today’s cities are virtually impossible to contain. In 1950, New York was the only metropolis in the world with more than 10 million people. Sixty years later and the number of such cities has skyrocketed: more than 25 cities around the world easily have that many people, and many are home to several times more. Extreme examples such as Tokyo or Jakarta prove that if anything this trend is intensifying – and the result is that more people now live in metropolitan areas than in rural ones.
Research has shown that cities occupy only about 2 percent of the earth’s surface, but use some three-quarters of its resources. They spew out billions of tons of garbage, sewage and greenhouse gases. How long can these cities keep growing? At what point will they cease to function? How can the city of tomorrow meet the needs of its citizens?
We can look at any city from five perspectives: mobility, energy, communication, security, and city life. Developments in all cities fall into these five areas, yet work relating to one is generally done in isolation from the others. Often these so-called “silos” have emerged over decades, and only rarely are there interfaces between them. The fear of losing power – and with it, their reason for existing – is simply too great.
The city of the future will function only once it breaks through this kind of thinking and increases the flow of ideas among the different areas. To create and use interfaces, these areas have to communicate and interact with each other and with their environments. Only then can a city become truly connected. Bosch Software Innovations is developing such models for the city of the future with the city-state of Monaco. One focus of the collaboration is urban mobility.
Let’s take waste collection as an example. Since Monaco’s streets are quite narrow and trucks can cause serious traffic tie-ups, the city is very keen for waste collection teams to do their job quickly. At the same time, business owners can’t put the garbage out on the street too early; they don’t want to tarnish the city’s image or block the sidewalk longer than necessary. But how are business owners supposed to know when the garbage truck is coming, or if it’s already been by? Using an app, they can track the location of the connected garbage trucks and put out their trash at just the right time.
Another example is managing parking spaces. If the city networks its parking garages and large parking lots, drivers can use an app to see where the available spaces are. Yet this information isn’t valuable just for those in search of parking. By observing and evaluating the data over longer periods, city planners can better decide where to put a new parking garage or whether to redirect certain traffic flows. They could apply a similar approach to traffic signals and islands.
The Bosch-Monaco collaboration is also working on improving control of traffic flows. Special cameras equipped with IVA (intelligent video analysis) technology have been installed at the train station. These smart cameras continuously evaluate the recorded video signal and analyze the number of people present. If that number increases, for example after a train has arrived, the system can take appropriate action. Clusters of people around elevators are easier to handle since the system can recognize if an elevator is out of order or can’t hold enough people. All this serves to facilitate the smooth flow of foot traffic within the train station. The system can even actively control the street traffic around the station to help avoid traffic jams or delays.
The city as a living organism
As cities evolve, they bring new challenges for technology developers and manufacturers alike. It used to be enough just to deliver a good product. But the city of tomorrow demands more. Take cameras, for example. In the past, camera manufacturers simply weren’t concerned with what the city was planning or what exactly they would use the cameras for. Today, the technology has become a solution; city administrators expect to see not just a sophisticated camera, but a business plan as well. That business plan should ideally be carefully tailored to the customer city and its needs. For companies, this means they have to work more closely with their customers and put themselves in the customer’s shoes. The customer-supplier relationship will change as a result.
One challenge that applies particularly to software is the timely processing and analysis of data; after all, a connected city generates at least 100,000 events per second. A city has two basic options for turning itself into a connected city. One calls for equipping things (sensors/actuators) with local intelligence. The advantage of this option is that the system can collect data where it is generated, and will forward it only as dictated by the logic in place. However, the downside is a loss in flexibility should the city choose to install a new or overarching system. The second option is central control: a central platform receives all data and then routes it as needed.
The reality will probably lie somewhere between these two options. Targeted application and the cost-benefit effect will ultimately decide what makes more sense: a centralized or decentralized system.
All of this is still quite a ways off, since in most cases cities lack a strategic structure. What’s needed is a kind of authority, someone to take the lead and lend some shape to the city of tomorrow. This way of thinking is strange to most cities, but if they want to get connected, they have to change how they do things – they need to get out of the silos and into a network.