Smart cities on the rise as planners prepare for rapid urbanisation

It may seem an as yet poorly defined concept, but the smart city is slowly becoming a reality, and various municipalities are already prepping their streets for a world where connectivity is synonymous with mobility. By Freddie Holmes

It is not only vehicles that are getting smart – cities are too. While the term ‘smart city’ may seem a somewhat broad characterisation for the wealth of changes going on behind the scenes, defining the criteria for a smart city can be tricky.

However, understanding what a smart city is all about becomes easier when considering that municipalities and automotive stakeholders share many of the same common goals: improved safety, reduced air pollution and greater access to affordable and efficient means of mobility.

Smart city is a very broad and vague term, but I think it describes the fact that cities are trying to leverage new technologies in order to be more efficient

The majority of the earth’s population is likely to live in, or near a city in future, and many of those new residents may not wish to own a car in future. Thus, there is a mutual interest in offering shared mobility services to supplement existing public transport links. Then there is the next iteration of the bus lane – the rapid transit system – which in future may run alongside dedicated lanes for autonomous vehicles. According to projections from Navigant Research, 21% of the global vehicle fleet will be used as part of an automated mobility service by 2035.

TomTom mobile mapping vehicle
Vehicle autonomy is classified according to the SAE scale of automation; there are no such guidelines for smart cities

Keeping pace with technology

Just as the phrase ‘connected car’ may have raised a few eyebrows initially, the concept has now become an accepted norm both within and outside of the automotive industry. Not only that, but the process is seen as a snowballing effort to add new technologies within the vehicle as opposed to a sudden transformation. With this in mind, the smart city starts to feel more tangible.

“Smart city is a very broad and vague term,” commented Louis Debatte-Monroy, Strategic Marketing Manager at TomTom, “but I think it describes the fact that cities are trying to leverage new technologies in order to be more efficient. That means providing better services at lower costs, because we’re talking about taxpayers’ money.”

Large cities are faced with a number of challenges, many of which stem from rapid urban growth. According to the United Nations, urban areas will house more than 60% of people globally by 2030. More people usually equates to more cars, either through increased private vehicle ownership or an expansion of taxi services to accommodate new customers, as well as greater pressure on road networks and thus increased congestion and air pollution. Then there are other factors such as zero emissions delivery services and parking. While meeting these challenges may be tough, Debatte-Monroy highlighted that there is also an economic incentive to make the city smart.

“Cities are making these changes to remain competitive, because with globalisation, more and more cities are competing at an international level; London is competing with Paris for financial institutions at the moment, for instance,” he observed. “We understand the movement to smart cities as an effort to leverage technology in order to be more competitive and efficient.”

In many cases, the interests of the cities and the interests of individual drivers conflict. Our vision at TomTom is to see if we can play a role in aligning those interests by making sure that the communication can flow

However, with various players at the table, it can take time for these visions to gel. “Today, in many cases, the interests of the cities and the interests of individual drivers conflict,” he explained. “Our vision at TomTom is to see if we can play a role in aligning those interests by making sure that the communication can flow.”

Up and comers

As a mapping and navigation expert, TomTom is able to collect data from consenting drivers to help city planers manage traffic. Today, the company leverages data from around half a billion devices globally in real time. All of this data is anonymised, validated, and then merged through a process called ‘fusion’. This data is then stored, and offers a valuable insight into how a city ticks.

“A big use case we have with smart cities is basically Big Data on traffic – where people go, at what speed, and when – and a number of cities are quite interested in that historical traffic data,” said Debatte-Monroy. “They use it for things like network performance measurements to understand how well the network is behaving, and how it evolves over time.” This can help city planners to make informed decisions when it comes to updating infrastructure, for example. In November 2016, TomTom announced that it had ‘joined forces’ with Amsterdam, which would leverage TomTom traffic data to better manage the city’s road network. Earlier that year, TomTom had reached an agreement with the city of Moscow to implement an ‘intelligent transportation programme’.

A number of cities use historical traffic data for things like network performance measurements to understand how well the network is behaving, and how it evolves over time

Indeed, cities around the world are openly implementing, or developing, smart city solutions to varying degrees. Barcelona, Spain has been described as a ‘blessing’ for smart city projects by SEAT, and in Saudi Arabia, the capital city, Riyadh, has been working with Cisco on smart parking and lighting. In December 2015, the US Department of Transportation (DOT) backed a Smart City Challenge that would see 78 cities propose plans for an intelligent transportation system, the winner of which would receive a US$40m federal grant. Columbus, Ohio won the challenge with its multi-faceted proposal that included the creation of a data platform to underpin the city’s smart city efforts, a connected vehicle environment and a connected trip planning and payment system.

But according to Debatte-Monroy, Singapore has become ‘the role model’ for smart cities globally. “Amazing stuff is happening there, and they are working on several interesting things around traffic management,” he noted. Singapore has also become a hotbed for autonomous driving testing. For example, nuTonomy – the autonomous driving software start-up acquired by Delphi (now Aptiv) in October 2017 – has already run a driverless taxi pilot in the city.

A city to watch would definitely be Pune in India. The Indian government has a major policy and plans to invest billions of rupees in smart city projects

“We’re also working with most of the large cities in Europe in one way or the other,” continued Debatte-Monroy. “We work a lot in Germany with Frankfurt and Düsseldorf, and with the city of Madrid in Spain.” Maybe most interestingly, one of the key up and coming smart cities is in an emerging market. “A city to watch would definitely be Pune in India; the Indian government has a major policy and plans to invest billions of rupees in smart city projects,” he explained. “There’s also been a contest where various cities were asked to submit Smart City Projects.”

A gradual shift

Unlike autonomous vehicles, which can be ranked via the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) scale of automation, there are no specific milestones for a smart city. In fact, many of the technological advances will go unnoticed by the average citizen. Rather than turning a smart city on at the flick of a switch, it will be a gradual process over the coming decades.

“The shift to smart cities will entail small changes that are happening around us every day, and we will not necessarily notice them because they become part of our everyday life,” concluded Debatte-Monroy. “Will there be a ‘day one’ where we notice the difference? Probably not. These little things that are being implemented day after day will be making our lives easier without us necessarily realising it.”

This article appeared in the Q2 2018 issue of Automotive Megatrends Magazine. Follow this link to download the full issue

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