We may not have flying cars or even hover boards as predicted in Back to the Future II, but Scotland is making significant strides with its futuristic smart city initiatives, writes Dr Andrew Muir.
A smart city is one that improves the quality of life, increases sustainability and creates economic benefits using digital technology. With a predicted seven billion people living in urban areas by 2050, it is becoming more important to implement sustainable resources, and technology is the key catalyst for this change.
There is so much data currently available from commuters buying tickets through to people connecting to public Wi-Fi and data generation is set to accelerate. Councils are now looking to consolidate this data, adopt open data strategies and enable a cross-departmental view of council operations to better inform decision making.
Currently, councils throughout Scotland are approaching smart cities differently. From Edinburgh focusing on tourism and social inclusion by implementing public Wi-Fi through to Perth investigating the rollout of smart lighting; the individual aims of councils may vary, but they are united in their aim to make Scotland safer, cleaner and easier to navigate.
Smart cities of today
We are already seeing intelligent use of technology around our cities, such as digital boards at bus stops telling us estimated bus times and Google Maps traffic updates, but there is much more that can be done.
Glasgow was awarded £24 million Innovate UK future city funding to trial smart technology and they have already demonstrated the benefits. LED street lighting lines Gordon Street and the riverfront with technology that dims when there is no movement around, decreasing energy usage by up to 70 per cent.
The My Glasgow app makes it easier for anyone to share information with the council, including reporting potholes, faulty lights and even dead animals. This crowdsourced data is directly sent to council, making it quicker and more cost effective to identify a problem.
Noise sensors and pollution monitoring systems, like the ones seen in Glasgow, enable councils to meet benchmarks. As these become more commonplace, fines for those who exceed limits will provide incentive with the information highlighting areas that need attention before levels get too high and driving alteration of traffic habits.
Smart cities of tomorrow
So what can we expect of a smart city in the future?
As you’re walking out your door in the morning your phone will notify you if there is congestion on your usual route. If you’re cycling you will get immediate recommendations to divert to avoid delays.
You will choose to receive push notifications and receive daily specials from your favourite stores and cafes as you travel past them. There will be fewer overflowing bins with smart technology telling the council when a bin is full and needs to be changed.
Parking will be simpler to find with apps directing you to the nearest available space. That is if you are still driving your car, with electric driverless cars already being trialled throughout the world. The nearest electric vehicle charge point will be found using an app or an in-car notification.
Tourists will use interactive street signs to search a map, look for points of interest in the area and even purchase tickets.
Wireless connectivity will be ubiquitous and available to all.
The use of wireless devices in and around the city will be easier with a seamless transition between networks, negating the need to search and log-in as you move. Phone connectivity in general will be better with small cell technology improving mobile network capacity in congested areas.
Missing persons will be searched for immediately using CCTV and Police control rooms, tightly integrated with social media notifications to local people in the area.
You will even be able to save money at home with phone apps notifying you when energy usage is cheapest, enabling you to program your home washing machine to switch on remotely and save you money.
Selected properties will also benefit from reduced utility bills with recycled energy from local District Heating schemes, such as the future Glasgow Recycling and Renewable Energy Centre that will use energy produced from the processing of waste to heat nearby homes and businesses.
Every day more technologies become available and cities around Scotland are working together to harness the benefits and share results. While we may not have shoes that tie themselves (yet) or automated dog walkers, it won’t be long before our cities are much smarter and sustainable for everyone.
Dr Andrew Muir is CEO and Co-Founder of FarrPoint, an independent IT consultancy working with councils throughout the UK to implement smart city initiatives.