Five smart cities under the radar
Alba Iulia, Romania
Orange has funded and developed the first and biggest integrated smart cities project in Romania, in the city of Alba Iulia, capital of Alba County in Transylvania. The French network operator has worked with the city since late 2016 to expand and upgrade its backbone communications infrastructure, including its 4G/4G+ networks, fiber-optic broadband network, LoRa WAN network for IoT, and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth networks. This enhanced infrastructure underpins 14 different smart city solutions, selected to support the local tourist industry and to facilitate better communications between city and citizens.
As part of this infrastructure overhaul, a network of 200 beacons has been installed around the city. The data they gather and transmit supports a new app for tourists, providing information on attractions and services and enables local businesses to communicate with visitors. Wi-Fi has been extended to the Alba Carolina Citadel, the city’s main tourist area, as well as the city’s bus stations, train station, high schools and university. City Hall collects useful information from its array of beacons and Wi-Fi terminals to observe and optimise pedestrian traffic and public transport. It can also use the Wi-Fi network to organise surveys and polls, and engage with citizens.
Sefan Slavnicu, chief technology officer at Orange Romania, says the Orange smart city platform is based on an open date architecture. “This means that the information collected by the sensors installed in the city, from air quality monitoring to smart lighting and water metering, but also via the Wi-Fi network and new smart city applications, are aggregated in the platform,” he explains. “Thus, any organisation can develop new applications for Alba Iulia Smart City 2018 using data already collected. This is very important because a smart city is constantly evolving – it adapts to the needs of its inhabitants.”
Like San Diego in the US, Atlanta is among a second wave of U.S. smart cities that are seeking to unite disparate city departments around digital technologies. Indeed, leveraging technology to clarify connections between departments presents a fresh opportunity for cites, it observes, and is a major factor in its own operational efficiencies. Janae Futrell, senior program manager for Atlanta’s SmartATL program, makes the point that not all smart city successes are down to modish technologies. Most come down to good old-fashioned planning and hard work, plus newly acquired data practices, she says.
To help prevent vehicle crashes, the city has worked with Together for Safer Roads (TSR) to parse together data to identify contributing factors in vehicle incidents. The data, which informs engineering and design tactics that the public works department finally implements, is drawn from readily available sources, including collision records, 911 calls, and local weather records and events calendars. The project has not relied on modish ‘internet of things’ (IoT) based technologies, notes Futrell.
“While Atlanta has deployed many sensors for various projects, the City is not losing sight of the value that data generated from historic sources brings. By leveraging all types of data and bringing them to bear to solve specific problems, the City is positioned to move into the future, acknowledge the value of the past, and weave these into a rich patchwork of data-driven insights that improve quality of life for the public.”
Atlanta’s SmartATL program has also sought to empower stakeholders at every turn. “If either the planning department or public works are not willing to use the information to change their processes, the project may be reduced to interesting, but unapplied, technology,” says Futrell. “For all the discussion and excitement around technology, the human side of smart cities is not a large departure from the way collaboration has historically functioned. On City of Atlanta projects, effort is put in on the front end to ensure key people are involved from day one.”
But new digital concepts such as machine learning can also transform city operations, and often city departments lead the initiative. The Atlanta Police Department (APD) has worked with Georgia Tech researchers to apply machine learning, via natural language processing, to revolutionize its investigative process, says Futrell. By comparing phrases across reports, investigators can see potential correlations – with weapons, clothing, interactions, and phrases – much earlier in crime sequences, save time and money, and prevent possible incidents.
Guadalajara is a smart-city-in-the-making. In 2012, the city won a federal government innovation grant to create the “most important business cluster of its kind in the Spanish-speaking world,” a flagship city for the country’s economic transition from traditional manufacturing to digital industry. The local government saw the competition as an opportunity to make a smart city out of a neglected, but iconic old-town district, with digital technology woven into its colonial fabric. By contrast, rival cities pitched green-field projects on their outskirts.
“The strategy is unique. Guadalajara’s is a completely unified mission, which considers existing communities and cultures, and brings new talent in to stimulate the whole area. It is a bottom-up solution. A city can create something very modern with globalization, but it can lose its identity at the same time,” says Victor Larios, professor at the University of Guadalajara’s department of information systems, and director of its Smart Cities Innovation Centre.
The city has now secured a $500 million federal grant to construct a digital hub, the Ciudad Creativa Digital (CDD), on a 100-acre site in the heart of the city. Interest is building. The government’s economic development agency reckons the CCD will generate 20,000 jobs and $10 billion of investment over the next 5-10 years. German manufacturer Bosch has already announced it will move into the area
Guadalajara’s smart city story is examined in depth in the Enterprise IoT Insights editorial report, ‘The building blocks of a smart city’, along with reviews of programmes in Barcelona in Spain, San Diego in the U.S. and Manchester in the U.K.
Lyon in France, with a population of around 500,000, can hardly be considered a city under the radar, but it consistently finds itself in the shadow of Paris in most round-ups of leading smart cities. This is understandable, as the French capital is among a handful of major European cities that have led the way for civic digital transformation. But Lyon buzzes with innovation, with major smart city projects focused on energy, mobility and healthcare. It deserves a closer look.
As with the new smart cities 2.0 ethos, which has gained credence as a second wave of smart cities have found their mark, Lyon’s strategy has been to “leverage connected technologies and civic data to activate all creative forces within the city and to respond to the new urban challenges we face”, it says.
Among its most innovative new projects, the city has just launched a driverless shuttle service in the tech borough, Confluence, an area of 150 hectares south of the city centre, between the Rhône and the Saône rivers. The project is the first driverless public shuttle bus service in the country. The shuttle, developed by local start-up Navya, runs between the main business and retail sites; its 1,300-metre route is free of traffic lights, crossings and intersections. It carries up to 15 people, free of charge, averages 15km/h, and takes less than 15 minutes, each way.
It uses a number of navigation technologies to navigate and avoid obstacles, including LiDAR, stereovision cameras, real-time kinematic GPS, and odometry. The project is supported by the city council and the local public transport agency, as well as the French Environment and Energy Management Agency, and seeks to pave the way towards zero-emission public transport in France.
Like most large cities, Montréal, in Québec, Canada, faces challenges with transport and mobility, and wants to make it easier for its citizens, as well as its goods and services, to get around. The city has developed a set of smart city initiatives to augment its more traditional highways and transport management efforts. But it is no easy task, says Stéphane Guidoin, acting director of the city’s ‘smart and digital’ office. “Given the various jurisdictions and actors involved in mobility, no single player can provide significant improvement alone. Consequently, we are working to feed and develop synergies and ecosystems,” he says.
The city wants to provide each function within its complex civic mobility system with the means to make incremental improvements in their services, and this way orchestrate more dynamic movement within the city. “The role we have given ourselves, on top of cities’ regular role like street improvement, is to collect and process relevant data about mobility and make it accessible to other players, invite them to do the same, and involve citizens as much a possible citizens,” explains Guidoin.
Among its latest initiatives, the city has deployed an in-house data aggregation platform, Geo-Traffic, which collects and shares traffic data from and among the civic transport systems, including systems managed by the city, private firms, provincial partners and third-party contractors. Montréal also has a data sharing deal with community navigation app Waze, and has launched a crowd-sourcing app, Trajet MTL, enabling local users to submit anonymised data about their trips and travel times in return for entry into a prize-draw for tickets, tech and other prizes.