On 19-21 November, more than 24 thousand visitors from all over the world convened in Barcelona for the ninth edition of the Smart City Expo World Congress. This year’s hot topics covered a wide range of areas, from 5G to Digital Twins, from micro-mobility to Intelligent Transport Systems, from rural-urban links to data governance and digital rights. If you missed it, here are the three main takeaways according to 21c whose team (Susie and Pavel) spent three full days at the event, representing H2020 projects Select4Cities, DUET and PoliVisu.
(1) The Internet of Everything (IoE) is one of the dominant drivers transforming the way people manage and live in urban environments. This new connected approach involves physical spaces as well as objects and provides a massive opportunity for the creation of new smart services and businesses especially in the areas of logistics, transport, environment, security and wellbeing.
Despite the promise of IoE, progress to date has been slow due to several barriers such as the lack of common standards, a fragmented marketplace, and lack of ways to systematically test and introduce new solutions in the cities. Increasingly, cities are joining forces to try and develop their own platform that met their needs and enable large-scale co-creation, testing and validation of urban IoE applications and services. This is done using the Pre-Commercial Procurement. It works by securing R&D from several competing suppliers across a series of phases – e.g. solution design, prototyping, living lab, piloting or end-user testing - in order to compare different solution approaches and identify which offer the best solution that the city is facing or trying to remedy. During each phase, the number of competing suppliers is reduced, but the funding increases.
(2) Digital Twins have greatly benefited from advances in Artificial Intelligence, Big Data analytics and the Internet of Things all of which added a new dimension to this modeling concept. However, implementing the Digital Twin technology requires a strong digital culture. And because Digital Twins are a relatively recent phenomenon, we need more case studies and best practices to promote their adoption on a wider scale.
Digital Twins provide a virtual model of a place, process, product or service, allowing users to monitor systems and head off problems before they occur. A kind of modeling exercise, Digital Twins help answer “then-what?” and “what-if?” questions by simulating the impact of change on status quo. In the context of smart cities, having a virtual replica of a place comes in handy as policy makers and planners can use the city model to better manage resources, prevent systems’ downtime, reduce carbon footprint and improve vital services, to name just a few opportunities. This makes Digital Tweens heavily dependent on data e.g. government data, in-situ data, 3D models, real-time IoT data. And that is just one challenge impeding their global adoption as cities with small budgets and nascent digital culture will simply find the whole endeavor too costly, too sophisticated. Additionally, delivering early success is crucial for Digital Twin’s long-term’s success. Potential adopters need to see the benefits sooner than later to add to the momentum and become part of the movement.
(3) Transports systems are capable of producing innovative solutions that address long-term needs of smart cities. However, these solutions require an appropriate regulatory framework that balances innovation with wider concerns about safety, sustainability and equity to achieve a seamless, multi-modal and integrated mobility of the future.
Urban transport systems are constantly changing. EVs, micro-mobility, connected and self-driving cars are gaining traction in cities all over the globe. But these innovations are not without issues. For instance, e-scooters offer a cheap, environmentally friendly alternative to motor vehicles. Because they take up less space than cars, many urban planners also see e-scooters as a key element of the future transport system. But for all their benefits, e-scooters have attracted a lot of criticism. Some call them a menace to pedestrians while others like to point out that they not only clog up streets but also endanger their riders’ lives. The challenge for government is therefore how to regulate new forms of transport in a manner that upholds public safety, as well as environmental and social standards, without stifling the innovation.
To conclude, it’s hard to find an area where the Fourth Industrial Revolution hasn’t left its mark. From mobility to energy and environment, everything these days is affected by changes in data and ICTs that continue their relentless pace year after year. Because of that, decision makers increasingly rely on evidence-based knowledge and advanced data driven tools to leverage new technologies which can help unleash sustainable and equitable opportunities for their cities.