‘Smart Cities’ On The Increase, Despite Obstacles And Risks
I attended the first day of the inaugural Smart Cities Europe 2012 summit yesterday. The establishment of ‘smart cities’ globally is being driven by the growing need to augment/automate a wide range
of legacy productivity, distribution, and consumption platforms
of legacy productivity, distribution, and consumption platforms. Current and forecast population growth and urbanisation trends demand the creation of hundreds of new cities – or new communities within existing cities – over the next couple of decades, and this is an ideal time to develop, test and implement new technologies to replace outmoded and inefficient platforms.
BMI’s ICT research team has noticed an uptick in smart city projects in the last couple of years, with Asia and the Middle East being the main focus of attention as new economic and business hubs are being forged in countries as diverse as South Africa, Brazil, China and the UAE. Leading telecoms/technology companies such as Cisco Systems, Nokia Siemens Networks and Huawei Technologies are being contracted to develop new internet-friendly infrastructure into the very fabric of these cities, and it is envisaged that the public and private sector will also contribute to the development of smart cities to ensure they are fairly represented. Nevertheless, smart cities risk being used as political footballs – useful to win votes, but also early casualties of financing squeezes despite potential economic growth contributions.
Also, much of the work accomplished to date has been carried out by a diverse mix of national/local government and public/private sector agencies, each with their own agendas and biases, and the mooted super-system of systems is unlikely to emerge soon or in any usable form due to a lack of technological consistency and compatibility. Technology providers also have different views on how to implement super-systems. There are no standards in place and we may see many smart cities emerge over the next decade that are incapable of supporting even the simplest new innovations in technology. It is hoped that summits such as these will help.
BMI has a generally positive view towards the broad agenda set out by key players and recognises the importance of fully integrating future-proof infrastructure into new cities. We believe that technologies and applications developed in these real-life hothouses will lead to similar solutions that can be applied retrospectively to existing cities, lessening the deleterious effect of peak demand on transportation, energy generation and consumption, etc. Experiences gained from developing smart traffic management systems in Asia helped with the development of Transport for London (TfL)’s iBus system here in the UK, for example.
But, security and data privacy are treated as an after-thought. Somebody else’s problem, effectively, according to several people I spoke to. This is worrying if the majority of systems are to be routinely deeply interconnected in the future. A simple virus could shut off the national grid, crash aircraft, or send nuclear reactors critical. A forthcoming BMI Special Report will look at the development of the ‘Internet Of Things’ and, in particular, at the risks associated with making all critical systems too interdependent.