Martin Brynskov, OASC and Aarhus University
Omar Elloumi, AIOTI and Nokia
This blog was written before the COVID-19 crisis. Its publication was put on hold, however the authors believe its conclusions are even more relevant as the industry and public sector adapt for a post COVID-19 world.
Over the last years, the Connected Smart Cities & Communities Conference, organized yearly by the Open & Agile Smart Cities network, became a must-attend event for the current state of the fast-paced technical and market developments of smart cities and communities. With its roots as conference mostly focused on outcomes of EU-funded projects, the conference is now attracting cities and IoT/ICT providers working towards transformational change pertaining to resilient, circular, and nicer cities to live-in.
The evolution from a knocking on the door of what’s realistic, sustainable and brings value -and this is where EU funded projects play an important role in addition to public and private sector initiatives – to market-ready deployments is increasingly noticeable year over year.
Here are most important take-aways from the 2020 edition of Connected Smart Cities & Communities:
1. Data sharing & integration are the most important challenges regulators and standards bodies are urged to solve
Because smart cities are increasingly about device and application proliferation, where data generated once gets used a subsequent number of times, traditional approaches to data integration will not scale because of their prohibitive costs. Of course, standardized data models that have been developed by the industry could relieve some those concerns. However, the whole area of data modelling has traditionally suffered from the “not-invented here syndrome” which resulted in competing, not comprehensive models and a plethora of vendor proprietary extensions.
We believe initiatives such as SAREF (an ontology for representing knowledge for smart appliances) and NGSI-LD (a standard-based API for sharing data sets) are first steps heading in the right direction.
Convergence around a limited number of standardized ways to share data will allow to shift focus from a largely low value interoperability enablers to a much higher outcomes related to applications business logics (including ArtificiaI Intelligence) and their benefits to cities and their users. A recent report from AIOTI on Smart Farming and Food Security highlighted the importance of data sharing (including trading) in food security, a challenge that’s very relevant for the context of this blog, became evident during the COVID-19 crisis.
2. Resilient cities must fill the gap between IoT and public safety
The Internet of Things (IoT), in particular in the context of smart cities and communities, and public safety have largely evolved as separate streams within both standards and industry initiatives. While developments around IoT have focused on data-driven automation, public safety has mostly been dealing with critical voice communications for connecting citizens and first responders in case of emergencies.
However, with IoT being deployed massively in smart cities and communities, its role in enhancing public safety through bringing situational awareness to first responders and citizens will be a game-changer. More so as public safety authorities deploy IP based solutions.
As sensing becomes ubiquitous and remaining barriers to use related data beyond originally intended deployments are overcome, certified fire detectors or insights from video analytics apps, for example, can be used by public safety agencies in anticipation of human interventions. The benefits are clear: every second or minute could save lives. A paper from AIOTI highlights the issues and challenges to address remaining gaps.
3. Vertical farming: An asset for to cities’ resilience and circular economy
Vertical farming brings agriculture to smart cities and communities. It is emerging as a disruptive way of producing food in cities. While urban self-sufficiency has traditionally focused on domains such as energy or water, food is a naturally critical resource that cities have, so far, sourced from surrounding or distant areas in the countryside or abroad. Because vertical farming imposes stringent constraints, IoT is emerging as one of the main pillars for vertical farming to increase efficiency and reduce cost.
Because of the initial upfront costs pertaining to urban farming, there’s still a long way to go before reaching any form of profitability. However, applying pure economical metrics to this area is not yet the right approach. The entire area of urban farming has to be seen from the perspective of increasing resiliency in emergency situations and contributing to reducing the carbon footprint of the city.
4. AI and smart cities: Ensuring fair AI practices for social impact
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is deeply linked to the idea of smart cities and communities. While the major focus in the past couple of years was on the disruptive potential for AI, it’s now clear that ethical AI is the main concern of cities who want to guarantee privacy and positive impact on society when sourcing AI solutions.
This is an area where experience sharing among cities will be of paramount importance for the future.
5. Urban generative design will impact the way cities are architected and upgraded
Imec (at the Connected Smart Cities & Communities ’20 conference) provided the following value propositions for city digital twins:
- Improve decision making for city administrations and emergency responders
- Allow citizen to understand the impact of decisions in the city and provide feedback
ABI research argues that IoT is a mere incremental step to improve the efficiency of managing urban assets. Urban generative design, however, “will allow cities to address the urban challenges of the future, ranging from the provision of sustainable energy to the adoption of smart mobility and the construction of resilient cities.”
We argue that IoT and Urban generative design are two facets of the same coin because one needs the other: predicting the impact of urban planning builds on top of city historical data. Those predictions will equally include ICT and IoT infrastructure to ensure a continuous journey.
This blog provides a snapshot of some interesting development areas which happen to be on the radar screen of smart cities and communities as well as their ICT providers. These areas need further technology development (including standards), piloting and experience sharing before entering the mainstream.
 Also chair of AIOTI WG08 on Smart Cities
 “URBAN GENERATIVE DESIGN: THE END GAME FOR SMART CITIES”, ABI Research report 2019