In 2013, Glasgow beat a host of other UK cities to win funding worth £24m from the Technology Strategy Board (now known as Innovate UK) to explore innovative ways to use technology and data to make life in the city safer, smarter and more sustainable. Over the last two years, Glasgow has been developing a series of initiatives to showcase the potential offered by smart city technology.
Glasgow, once the second city of the British empire, is now aligning itself as the smart city of the future. City planners, civic leaders and technology officials from around the world want to know how it is transforming into possibly the most interconnected, smart and tech-driven metropolis on the planet.
Earlier this year Glasgow City Council was been awarded both the Geospatial World Excellence Award and the Holyrood Connect Award for their Future City Glasgow programme, for using technology creatively to improve life in the city.
Judges at the Geospatial World Excellence Award at a ceremony in Lisbon, praised Glasgow for "providing global leadership in demonstrating how older, more established cities can be transformed into Smart Cities of the future" and added that the "programme was recognised around the world for its emphasis on quality of life outcomes".
Dr Colin Birchenall, lead architect of the Glasgow future cities demonstrator at Glasgow City Council, explained that the demonstrator project focuses on four main areas of urban infrastructure: health, energy, transport and public safety. "We were asked to demonstrate the value of smart city technology at scale and in use, and we just had two years to do that", he explained.
The first project Birchenall detailed was Glasgow's smart LED lights deployed in three locations and connected through a mesh network in the city. The goal is to cut down on energy consumption, aid citizen safety and help emergency services.
"We were able to build a machine-to-machine network using that streetlight network. We've deployed sensors into the wireless mesh so the streetlights can react to the street. If a crowd forms outside the railway station the light will get brighter", he said. The lights can also be controlled remotely in emergencies to provide up to 30 percent more light to aid rescue services.
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"The project we undertook was to integrate digitally the smart grid with the digital management systems within 10 municipal buildings, including the beautiful Mitchell Library", said Birchenall.
"If there is a peak in energy demand in the city, as an alternative to creating more supply by firing up more generators, typically coal, the energy provider can send signals electronically through the smart grid into the smart building, and request that the building reduces its energy consumption".
This undertaking was used as a proof-of-concept to show how smart grids can work with smart buildings rather than in isolation, and Birchenall now wants other buildings to follow suit.
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At the core of it all is the data collection hub, a state-of-the-art integrated operations centre run by Glasgow city council, which has health records, figures for footfall in each street, demographics, air pollution records, all of which the city can use to plan ahead for business developments, schools and health services.
Although hailed as a success by Glasgow City Council, the project has faced its fair share of challenges too. A reluctance of local government organisations to share data for example, was something the project managers had to work hard to overcome. Now the new City Technology Platform will integrate the data streams, analyse the information, present it in a meaningful format and make it open for use by the public, businesses and academia. It will be accessed through websites and Smartphone apps including a data portal and the MyGlasgow dashboard.
Supporting all this open data was no mean task, according to Birchenall. "Cities can barely deal with all the information that's available let alone with this new wave of information that's coming, and one of the key challenges is that data is held in silos", he said. Pushing the data from Glasgow’s smart city systems, into the Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform, solved this issue.
Finally, the two-year timescale was a challenge with a huge number of interdependencies and specialists from a multitude of disciplines. “We weren’t just rolling out hardware and software or putting in new infrastructure, we were using technology in new ways and, especially in the case of the data hub, this was world-leading”, says Gary Walker, programme director of Future City Glasgow.