Technology for an urban future

Imagine a city where all the people could choose the most efficient route to work, shopping or leisure activities.  A city that used technology to adapt infrastructure to the needs of its citizens in a way that reduced waiting times and waste, continually using data and technology to innovate and improve city life.

That city doesn’t exist, yet, but cities across the UK – and around the world- are harnessing advanced technologies and digital connectivity to get closer to these goals.  

These technologies can improve efficiency and the experience of city life for citizens.  For example, a smartphone app that allows people to see traffic congestion and the waiting times for bus or metro services and so decide the easiest and quickest way to get across the city. Or a GPS finder that allows wheelchair users to find step-free access.

Energy use is also an increasingly important concern.  Cities represent three-quarters of energy consumption worldwide- and 80% of carbon emissions.  This is only going to rise with increasing urbanisation.

By using technology in the right way, we can make our city infrastructure more intelligent and better integrated. Cities can use resources more efficiently and effectively than ever before, creating a net reduction in energy consumption and providing more efficient services for citizens at the same time.

Bristol is a prime example of the ambition to implement such ideas. The city wants to cut its carbon emissions by 40% between 2005 and 2020. And it is using a variety of ‘smart’ solutions to help achieve this.  For example, the city council is helping its citizens to save energy at home, by deploying smart metering technology across social housing.  They are also trying to reduce demand for energy across the entire city by using software developed by SystemsLink to identify where waste is occurring and where savings can be made, and developing smart grid technology to further drive down emissions. And the city recently established its own energy company.

In Glasgow, 72,000 old fashioned street lights have been replaced with LEDs as part of an Intelligent Street Lighting Demonstrator.  But these aren’t simple street lights: they include sensors to measure footfall, lighting levels and climatic data such as air pollution. While they illuminate the street below like any other street lamp, they brighten in response to approaching pedestrians and cyclists and dim when no one is around, improving local light levels while reducing energy consumption by up to 60 percent.

London’s initiatives to make public transport data more readily accessible are also aimed at reducing congestion and transport emissions. The London Data Store now contains 650 datasets. This open sharing of data has helped businesses like CityMapper develop Apps that help millions of Londoners make better use of public transport.

We know the future of the planet will be urban. Cities will have an increasing impact on the environment; and cities will, in turn, themselves be heavily impacted by environmental change, from water shortages to rising sea levels. Cities, therefore, need to be in the lead in developing and implementing sustainable solutions. And the new generation of smart technologies can help.

Peter Madden OBE, CEO FutureCities Catapult

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