What are smart cities and where are we now?
The concept of smart communities or smart cities is not new. But what progress has been made in bringing the concept off the drawing board and putting it into action?
To really assess how smart our cities have become, we need to understand what we mean by a ‘smart’ community or city.
Well, the idea of a smart city is simple. You take actions that are done by humans and use remote sensing technologies instead. A basic example might be people reporting street lighting luminaires faults and automating the scheduling of a fix. For smart communities, electronically sensing when lights are not working and automating the scheduling of maintenance activity is, quite simply, a better approach.
It means the fastest response because the outage is remote sensed and maintenance is scheduled immediately. All in all, doing it electronically is faster and better organised. In essence, the word ‘smart’ may be read as ‘efficient’.
However, the vision for smart communities (and upscaling to smart cities) is far from fully formed. At the current time, in broad brush strokes, it may be summarised as:
- Safer places to live and work
- Less road traffic congestion
- A cleaner and better environment
Typically, these benefits might manifest as more responsive emergency services, fewer traffic jams and enhanced provision of environmental and other services.
In parallel with Scotland leading the way with the DRS drink container recycling initiative, Edinburgh is trailblazing a path for municipal waste management in the UK by implementing a smart city solution pioneered in Australia.
Public litter bin waste management
The smart devices that perform the sensing are examples of the Internet of Things (IoT). One application of smart devices is to make inert objects within the community or city-scape electronically active and able to communicate their state.
One area where smart communities and smart cities are making a deep, lasting impact is by increasing the efficiency of waste management services. In the case of waste management, the most widespread use of smart devices enables public litter bins to report when they need emptying.
Electronic sensors attached to public waste bins communicate, sending data about their capacity. This enables the system to determine when each bin needs emptying. This data is then used to schedule collection activity by municipal waste management vehicles. This optimises waste logistics, including the fleet management of waste collection vehicles, and resources such as fuel.
Other sensory capabilities that were not originally envisioned as part of smart communities or smart cities have also provided ‘windfall’ benefits for local authorities (LAs). The video data from waste management vehicles fitted with cameras to improve operator and citizen safety can also be subjected to video analytics processing. This is able to identify anything of interest in the video captured by vehicles doing the rounds.
Using video data to address anti-social behaviour
Some councils apply video analytics to video data captured by municipal waste management vehicle safety cameras and CCTV surveillance systems to identify anti-social behaviour (ASB), including vandalism such as graffiti, and fly-tipped waste. This allows LA waste and environmental teams to clean up, and environmental enforcement officers to investigate and potentially identify individuals involved.
Inevitably, the use of citizen personal data may raise concerns about where smart communities and smart cities may be ultimately heading.
At the forefront of thought on future development of smart communities and smart cities, is the forensic use of data. This may be used to prevent undesirable behaviour and crime.
Video data captured by municipal waste collection vehicle safety cameras and CCTV surveillance systems is already analysed for the purposes of deterring ASB and criminal behaviour before it occurs, as well as detecting and identifying persons of interest after such incidents.
However, unleashing the full power of big data with techniques and tools such as data lakes, data warehouses and machine learning brings possibilities that are limited only by our imagination.
‘The polluter pays’ has long been a principal policy in the environmental protection toolbox. Taxation of vehicle emissions is one obvious example; and weighing waste from businesses and charging accordingly is already a widespread practice.
Leading thinking might seem dystopian
The ability to analyse household rubbish at the point of municipal waste collection and charge for waste management services based on the weight of refuse and recyclables is an extension of this idea; however, such personalised use of information raises concerns about data protection and privacy.
This touches on RIPA legislation and sometimes rather negatively might be open to criticism and mischaracterised as ‘council spying’. It raises the spectre of ‘Big Brother’ and is seen by some as part of the march towards a more dystopian future.
The data laws enshrined by legislation such as the UK’s implementation of GDPR governs the use of personal information, including the identification of people in video and the use and disclosure of the information captured in public places and spaces.
This asserts the rights of each individual as the owner of their data. Innovation may be required to get the buy-in of citizens to allow processing of this personal data for smart communities and smart cities purposes.
3 tips for LAs in building smart communities and cities
- Make smart communities an integral part of digital transformation – Digital transformation is essentially the elimination of paper-based processes. On the surface, this produces efficiency gains, but at a higher level it is a move that produces greater amounts of raw and accurate data that can be used in more strategic and innovative ways. The concept of smart communities is indexed to the digital transformation of LAs. To be fit for purpose, the road map for technology development within every LA must include any considerations for building smart cities as an intrinsic element – it’s not a ‘bolt on’ or a nice-to-have.
- Always consider privacy and how to get the buy-in of citizens – Protecting personal data is of paramount importance. For some smart cities initiatives, there is a need to break through the data governance constraints that currently exist, and innovation may be required to drive progress. One way to push the smart communities agenda along may be to obtain citizen opt-in for the processing of personal data. To incentivise citizens to opt-in to data processing schemes, one approach may be to discount council tax and social housing rents. In return for a safer, cleaner, fairer and more efficient community, council tax payers and social housing tenants reduce their monthly bills.
- Look for technology partners to develop smart community initiatives and solutions – It is likely that private sector technology companies that are experienced in working with councils offer the best way of delivering key elements of smart communities The best partners will be technology companies that have experience of partnering with LAs to develop smart cities initiatives and solutions. Those with the right experience will have current operational deployments for such projects. Such companies understand the complexities of public sector projects and simplify delivery.
Waste management for smart cities with Whitespace
Smart community waste management is an easy operational win with Whitespace. Our experience in partnering with the public sector to deliver smart waste management solutions is unsurpassed by any comparable private sector organisation.
To find out more about the Whitespace Municipal Waste Management software platform that delivers smart communities results, please get in touch by calling us on +44 (0)1483 231 650 or emailing us at: firstname.lastname@example.org