When looking at the concept of smart cities, it is easy to get caught up in the wave of science fiction styled innovations we see online. From a proposed Smart Forrest in Mexico to bike racks in the Netherlands that collect the leftover energy generated by cyclists, smart city innovation often seems like a big leap into a future generation.
As positive as sky-scraping is for innovation, the reality is that Australia has over 500 council Governments looking at how they can take advantage of technology to provide excellent citizen outcomes today. One of the critical challenges facing the group is how to get started.
Stuart Long is the CTO for Hewlett Packard Enterprises (HPE) in the Oceania region and heads up a team that regularly consults the industry about best practice and next steps on smart city innovation. From the onset of most projects, a consistent pain point arises.
“One of the key challenges for councils is to make the data flow across the different silos within their organisation. In the past, this is something that has not normally happened. Everything was typically contained within a boundary, and we are looking at how we can break this down.”
Long notes that this is consistent across many industries. However for Councils, the silo mentality of information can impact smart city projects as it affects the data pipeline of an organisation.
“When we are working with councils on the technology component, we need to look at how we make the data available for smarter decisions through what we call an ‘intelligent data pipeline’. From this, we can then look to apply newer analytic and decision support systems based on artificial intelligence and machine learning methodologies.”
“The majority of times we see transformation projects fail is when they don’t have enough quality data to make the right decisions.”
Long points to the example of road maintenance. The best way to get quality data can be from sensors connected to the councils waste management vehicles, given that waste disposal trucks are regularly covering all the streets in a council area.
“Fitting waste vehicles with sensors can not only impact the way you maintain the vehicles itself, it can impact the way you are managing roads. The data can be compared over time to show improvements like fixing potholes, which also provides benefits in reducing vehicle maintenance. What it takes is collaboration.”
Kickstarting Smart City Innovation
“A great example of this is water utilisation and some of the work we are doing for smart watering. With many areas suffering the effects of drought, we know if councils put sprinklers on during a rainstorm, they will get 20 – 30 calls from the community.”
Fitting sprinklers with sensors to understand the elements is an effective and efficient use of technology. Long also notes waste projects are ripe for innovation, through the use of “smart bin” technology. Sensors can provide capacity, weight, smell (odour), fire and position allowing predictive route planning, reduced the time spent on collection and allocation of resources to problems areas.
“A lot of these innovations will come down to connectivity. 5G will impact this by providing a cost-effective, high performance and low latency solution for collection and aggregating sensor data. The sensors themselves are inexpensive but you do have to manage and maintain the growing amounts of data.
Long notes that there is talk around how local councils could end up becoming data aggregators or network service provider by enabling access to sensor data and monitoring networks. This data can be shared with other council department or Government Agencies. Collaboration, Governance and Security are critical ingredients.