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Urban Furniture - The City's Digital DNA

11th May 2018

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Digitalisation enhances each and every touchpoint of our daily lives.  From the moment we awake, connectivity is at our fingertips, providing us with convenient services and improving our quality of life. With IoT progressing at an incredibly fast pace, the need for interoperability is becoming more and more evident; one thing driving this movement is the development of smarter, more responsive cities.

Look around your local town or city, what do you see? Besides the landscape of buildings and metropolitan buzz, sits an ecosystem of infrastructure installed to aid the way we move, live and interact within the community. This infrastructure is our urban DNA and can now offer so much more than its intended function. The lamppost is just one example of this; ubiquitous urban furniture that can now guide the way beyond illumination, it can gather unique urban data thanks to the opportunities open-ness brings.

Sense and sensibility

Of course, a standard streetlight is just that, a light. It’s with the application of enabling hardware that its potential is truly realised.  Nodes and sensors can be fitted to existing networks to create a digital dialogue from the street to the cloud, generating data that informs city leaders about their borough.  

From environmental impact to citizen safety, a number of variables can be monitored and controlled from one place using the insights gathered from a single streetlight. Sensing city behaviour is vital to understanding future requirements, which helps us respond to such needs in a smart and considered way.

Data Driven Development

Today’s cities are smarter; they can collect data variables that inform us about the way tomorrow’s cities should act. It is this rich, unique and priceless insight that is the most valuable aspect of smart city development. Without these insights our cities will be smart, granted, however they may fail to become responsive to the needs of the community and, without that, how do we progress?

Energy efficiency monitoring can inform us about cost-savings, fault reporting can educate us on service levels, all of these form the actionable insights we require to energise future communities. It is the interoperability between multiple software platforms and hardware devices that help us to recognise the steps we must take to improve our cities.

Open and secure spaces

Keeping systems open aids a two-way digital dialogue that enhances the way we interact with city infrastructure. We must be able to communicate freely, in order to manage smart city systems effectively. It’s one thing to understand the data that is available to us, but we also need to manage and update variables, based on the insights we gain.

Networks such as LoRaWAN are enablers for this data exchange and keep information secure, while providing the freedom to interact. As the concept of ‘smart’ evolves, so does the requirement for open standards, which drives innovation and communication across a dynamic mix of platforms.

We mentioned the importance of insights; protecting these is equally vital.  With clear measures in place for compliance and due diligence, cities can be built on safe and secure foundations where insights are the building blocks for further development. 

Connecting communities and councils

In essence, all of our efforts to make cities smarter are for the citizen. Our vision for the future is to unlock the potential of tomorrow’s cities with smart, open and sustainable systems that truly benefit the community.

With a multi-platform interoperable smart city control centre, councils can create interactive spaces for all citizens, based on the growing requirements of the community. From the business as usual applications, such as light switching, to enhancers such as citizen notifications, all can be derived from urban furniture - the city’s digital DNA.

Value of data

Considering these elements we’ve been able to develop an insight driven approach that is intended to energise future communities with solutions that meet their dynamic and evolving needs. Of course, every smart city project is unique which means there’s no magic formula to ensure a 100% success rate, but there are steps to take so that value is truly understood regardless of smart city model.

As previously mentioned actionable insights are the main goal - we want to use urban furniture to better understand the measures we must take to shape the way cities are built and behave.

These are derived from the raw data generated by nodes and sensors, which are then fed to a secure cloud based data store for evaluation and analysis. Once this data is interrogated, asset control and monitoring can take place across multiple connected points, to better understand the behaviour of assets, such as energy consumption and fault diagnosis.

Actionable Insights

And again we’re back to the actionable insights, which can be derived and applied to any smart city model. For example:

If the column door is open, there are a number of actionable insights we can gain that help us understand the steps required for further prevention, maintenance or observation.

  •  From an energy management point of view, we can better understand the implications – is power lost? Or conversely is power use increased – this could imply an electrical fault or that the door has been opened to access the power supply.
  •  From a citizen safety point of view, we can understand the geographical location and how this correlates with VIP events and heavy access routes.
  •  From a maintenance point of view, we can understand planned works taking place and how this meets maintenance deadlines.

This continuous cycle of asset control and monitoring, evaluation and analysis and those key actionable insights are how we can educate city leaders on the value of smart city development. Information is the driver; the power of this and open data should not be underestimated.

Energising Future Communities

We’ve been working in the smart street lighting realm for over 10 years and have recently been developing a solution that not only controls street lighting, but helps to manage, control and monitor multiple urban assets to enhance smart city development.  We'll be revealing more very soon, please stay tuned. 

The subject matter explored in this post was discussed at the recent IoT Showcase, hosted by ODILeeds as part of the Leeds Digital Festival 2018. To access the full slide deck, please click here to download

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