Technology

Where Smart Cities and Utilities Overlap

The concept of Smart Cities offers the promise of urban hubs leveraging connected technologies to become increasingly prosperous, safe, healthy, resilient, and clean. What may not be obvious in achieving these objectives is that many already-existing utility assets can serve as the foundation for a Smart City transition. The following is a broad discussion on the areas of overlap between utilities and smart cities, highlighting working knowledge from experience at PG&E.

The Limits of Data

When the idea of smart cities was born, some ten to fifteen years ago, engineers, including me, saw it primarily as a control system problem with the goal of improving efficiency, specifically the sustainability of the city. Indeed, the source of much of the early technology was the process industry, which was a pioneer in applying intelligent control to chemical plants, oil refineries, and power stations. Such plants superficially resemble cities: spatial scales from meters to kilometers, temporal scales from seconds to days, similar scales of energy and material inputs, and thousands of sensing and control points.

So it seemed quite natural to extend such sophisticated control systems to the management of cities. The ability to collect vast amounts of data – even in those pre-smart phone days – about what goes on in cities and to apply analytics to past, present, and future states of the city seemed to offer significant opportunities for improving efficiency and resilience. Moreover, unlike tightly-integrated process plants, cities seemed to decompose naturally into relatively independent sub-systems: transportation, building management, water supply, electricity supply, waste management, and so forth. Smart meters for electricity, gas, and water were being installed. GPS devices were being imbedded in vehicles and mobile telephones. Building controls were gaining intelligence. Cities were a major source for Big Data. With all this information available, what could go wrong?

The City as an Instrument of Public Health

The concept of urban health is becoming an increasing concern as awareness of the true extent of the issue spreads. Particularly for health services in low and middle-income countries (LMICs), which are already struggling to cope with the burden of infectious diseases, the added pressure of NCDs poses a serious threat.

And yet, this does not need to be the case. There is positive work that can make an enormous difference to the health of city-dwellers. We need to close the gap between awareness and action, recognizing cities’ potential enabling features to address public health issues.

What Does Equity Have To Do With Tech?

Unlocking the tech sector’s potential in Chicago (and beyond) means confronting segregation and inequality.

The tech field suffers from a costly cycle of inequity. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that, compared to other private industries, high-tech companies hire a disproportionate number of white people and men—68.5% and 64% of employees, respectively. Meanwhile, the STEM workforce in the U.S. is projected to grow exponentially; already, in job-rich Cook County and DuPage counties, tech jobs grew 14% and 18% between 2009 and mid-2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. As the city’s tech sector grows, so might inequality—unless more leaders like Sales-Griffin step up with creative interventions. Today in Chicago, just 12% of Latinos and 20% of African-Americans have bachelor’s degrees, compared to 44% of whites. The diversity talent gap threatens the tech sector’s vitality.

Combining Technologies to Bring Connectivity to the Community

Rhyzome Networks has undertaken a project to upgrade the equipment used for wireless access in order to create stronger connections between the root access points and the repeaters. Our new network does not rely on the original projects wireless mesh and fibre combination, and instead uses wireless point-to-point and fibre for the backhaul of information and the aging 7181 access points will be swapped out in favor of Aruba units.

Our journey into telecommunications began in 2009 as an initiative to provide a backhaul for Festival Hydro’s smart metering system. That project led us down a path to offering wireless and fibre optic connections. It became clear early on in the project that the infrastructure we were putting in place provided us with the opportunity to create a robust backbone that would support the offering of affordable internet and other connectivity options in a community that was, at the time, largely overlooked by the big players in the Canadian telecommunications space.

How to Build More Connected and Inclusive Cities

When thinking about the cities of the future, I know that they will be more connected, and I strongly believe that they must be more inclusive. We can’t have the Internet of Everything without the Inclusion of Everyone. Already today, a growing number of cities are using smart technologies to better connect people to places and to each other – and more importantly also connecting people to opportunities for better and safer lives.

Unfortunately, what still causes a significant amount of friction in our cities and prevents inclusive growth is the dominance of cash. In fact, close to 85 percent of all consumer payments in the world are still done with cash or checks. This means that far too many people are trapped by default in an informal economy. They lack the financial services to guard themselves against risk, save for themselves, plan for their children’s futures, and build better lives.

Protecting Our Cities from Cyber Attacks

This week, we’re featuring a three part article series from Meeting of the Minds co-founder, Gordon Feller, on cities and cybersecurity. This is the final article in the series.

As a city’s digital infrastructure improves, the distribution of digital skills and the culture of the digital economy will also improve — making it more likely that as each gets better, the city’s goals can be achieved more effectively. Cities can attract and retain higher quality workers if and when cities draw more businesses, new investments, and improved social and cultural amenities. Through joint planning between varied stakeholders (including the city government, businesses, and artists), all involved can thrive off each other and do so at a lower cost, thanks to shared resources in the cloud, accessible via mobile networks, etc.

City leaders increasingly understand that there must be a sustained investment in the digital economy’s hard infrastructure and soft infrastructure. This means investing in both traditional assets (e.g., transport, housing) as well as new assets for digital success (e.g., broadband, sensors, big data and analytics). It means nurturing skills and capabilities in design, creativity and innovation that represent an increasingly important part of the new “capital stock” from which cities square the circle of sustainable growth and social inclusion.

Smart Cities Face a Dynamic Cybersecurity Landscape

This week, we’re featuring a three part article series from Meeting of the Minds co-founder, Gordon Feller, on cities and cybersecurity. This is the second article in the series.

In yesterday’s blog post I put forward an idea: tech-powered urban innovations will not only make cities more efficient, they’ll help to transform how those cities operate, how they connect with (and listen to) citizens and visitors, and that may portend even bigger changes on the near-horizon.

The range of functions that a smart city can integrate digitally is growing exponentially. It typically includes connected and remotely accessible city assets or public spaces in which connectivity allows new patterns and styles of public engagement and municipal service delivery. But a smart city also introduces tremendous value through more mundane, but equally important, functions like parking, lighting, security, Wi-Fi and energy management. As IoT grows, cities (or even regions) can more affordably invest in and increasingly benefit by sharing their capabilities.

When Smart Cities Become Digitally Insecure

This week, we’re featuring a three part article series from Meeting of the Minds co-founder, Gordon Feller, on cities and cybersecurity. This is the first article in the series.

We’re in the midst of an exciting revolution that’s changing virtually everything about the way we work and live in cities. What’s happening to us all has various names—the Gartner Group calls it “the Nexus of Forces”; IDC Research refers to as “the Third Platform”. Others refer to it as “the Internet of Things (IoT) revolution”. Whatever name you choose, this could be the mother of all big transitions, and what’s driving it is the stitching together of a wide range of many different kinds of technology-driven disruptions.

One thing is clear, and it’s starting to get widely noticed: this process, stimulated by the emergence of low-cost connected technologies, is transforming our experience of cities as we’ve known them.

Creating a Smart City? Start With Your Entrepreneurs.

The city of Cleveland recently launched a neighborhood transformation initiative that will be working to build up various neighborhoods within the city. Starting over a year ago, the city began laying the groundwork and identifying the neighborhoods; now the city is ready to work with local partners and entrepreneurs to move forward by providing capital to grow local business. 

Starting a large city overhaul is a daunting task but by having coordination between the groups involved in the project and the city before the project even started, the city has already set the precedent for open communication and keeping the project on course.

My Move From the EPA to Silicon Valley to Green Our Cities

The average city procurement officer spends upwards of 15 hours researching cost, quality, and compliance specifications before deciding on where to spend our taxpayer dollars. This process is made more difficult by outdated systems and the many intricacies of policy...

Smart Cities and the Weather

A study by the US National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in 2008 found that the impact of routine weather events on the US economy equates annually to about 3.4% of the country’s GDP (about $485 billion). This excludes the impact of extreme weather events that cause damage and disruption – after all, even “ordinary” weather affects supply of and demand for many items, and the propensity of businesses and consumers to buy them. NCAR found that mining and agriculture are particularly sensitive to weather influences, with utilities and retail not far behind.

Many of these, disaster management included, are the focus of smart city innovations. Not surprisingly, therefore, as they seek to improve and optimize these systems, smart cities are beginning to understand the connection between weather and many of their goals.  A number of vendors (for example, IBM, Schneider Electric, and others) now offer weather data-driven services focused specifically on smart city interests.

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