It was with great pleasure that I was able to attend and participate in this year’s Smart Cities InFocus conference, held in Yinchuan. Yinchuan is one of the leading ‘smart cities’ in China, and has invested heavily in smart technology to support all aspects of public life. This includes traffic management (to help reduce congestion), waste disposal and recycling (including smart sensors to detect when collections are due, to to assist with sorting) and air quality monitoring. What perhaps marks out Yinchuan as being at the cutting edge is the attention which has been placed on centralised and fully integrated monitoring and control of service provision.
Aspects of the conference which resonated with me with work of the RGU Built Environment Visualisation Group (@rguvis) were those related to city modelling and dynamic traffic monitoring, both of which are the subject of ongoing work. With regards to city modelling, it was interesting to see how Yinchuan had used a combination of terrestrial laser scanning and airborne visual recording to build a reference model. This was on display at the event in combination with a 3D surface model (created using 3D Max). I have to admit to feeling slightly envious of their luxury car-mounted scanner setup, which would be very attractive in autumnal Aberdonian winds. 😀
With regards to smart monitoring and control of traffic, I was also struck by how aspects of the work ongoing in Aberdeen as part of the EU H2020 funded Civitas PORTIS deal with very similar issues, including the prioritisation of traffic controls to keep freight moving, and the increasing ability to use traffic light sensors to record, monitor and inform the best flow of traffic in the city. It was interesting to hear about the work of Ofo with regards to bike sharing (now present in the UK), and the inventive use of mobile technology to encourage modal shift from cars towards cycling (in the work of Kappo, from Santiago).
Taken together with the emphasis placed throughout the conference on people and wellbeing, the strongest message returning to Scotland is that we are very well placed to engage fully with digitisation of services. Vitally, this can happen to help solve and alleviate real problems, and improve the lives of people living and working in the city. As Nik Willets of TM Forum mentioned in his brilliant keynote, ‘The main KPI of a smart city must be the happiness of citizens’.
The conference felt almost unique with regards to the extent to which the organisers managed to fully integrate the triple helix of participants from public, private and academic backgrounds. All of the presentations were both engaging and thoughtful, and attempted to draw out key findings which could be found in case studies and cutting edge product development. The city case studies included examples from across the world, including San Diego, Milton Keynes (especially interesting was their now well known work regarding autonomous vehicles), Moscow and Utrecht, where citizen participation and engagement were shown to provide better decisions, and decisions which were genuinely based on evidence, and geared towards solving all manner of problems.
One message seemed to be that cities could usefully seize the moment when faced with a major change. In the case of Milton Keynes, for example, the planned expansion of the city in the coming years offers the possibility of integrating smart and emerging technology in new neighbourhoods. In the case of my own city of Aberdeen, current very significant changes to mobility in and around the city offer the possibility to use technology to ‘lock in’ benefits which might arise from displacement of car and freight vehicles, through active travel and the implementation of new approaches to fostering a modal shift towards walking and cycling.
I should also say that the event was brilliantly chaired by Carl Piva of TM Forum, who led in the launch of the TM Forum City as a Platform manifesto. That so many organisations were present to sign up to the manifesto, including the UK Future Cities Catapult, is both impressive and heartening. The TM Forum benchmark and maturity model is now supported by an interactive app, and reminded me in some respects of the BIM maturity models used within AEC, and will help to track as well as encourage and drive developments in the future.
This was a truly inspiring event, and I would be delighted to participate again in the future.
Professor Richard Laing