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While still a relatively new sounding term, the ‘smart city’ has been a topic of discussion for over ten years now. This technology enabled urban development has been increasingly influential in our cities during the past decade but has recently taken a big step forward to what we might now call ‘smart city 2.0’.

The recent shift comes from a significant increase in the pervasiveness of technology and the expansion of open data policies that is unleashing an unprecedented economic growth engine for urban innovation. The initial smart city movement saw us generate masses of new data for municipal government use, through deployment of vast networks of sensors. The smart city 2.0 movement is epitomised by the benefits of making all that data available to everyone.

Smart City 2.0

Smart city 2.0 is not just a service that improves life for a city’s citizens; it represents a platform upon which citizens can create their own solutions to issues they identify themselves. Furthermore, this is not just about publishing open historical data but also about making real-time data available; empowering citizens with the knowledge of what has happened, what is likely to happen and what is actually happening in their urban environment right now.

“This evolution has the potential to have the greatest impact of all because it can leverage the creativity and innovation of all citizens but in a way that benefits the masses”, suggested John Gordon, chief digital officer at Current, powered by GE.

Presently sensors are deployed around the city for very specific reasons; cameras on roads aid traffic flow strategies, air quality sensors help manage pollution, even microphones that triangulate gunshots for police response. In smart city 2.0, Urban digital infrastructure that allows anyone to see, hear, feel and smell what is happening anywhere in the city.

This open, real-time data platform is creating a new breed of citizen – “the urban entrepreneur”. Empowered by masses of sensory data, these urban entrepreneurs may create companies, websites, apps, initiatives or social enterprises inspired by the city, to benefit the city, based on a new level of urban understanding.

It is not essential to know the specific benefits that will arise, nor the problems that may be solved, only to have an appreciation that creating that platform of information will spur the creativity of citizens.

Take the smartphone for example, which went beyond the standard mobile telephone to offer a platform upon which people could create their own solutions. At the birth of the smartphone few would have imagined Uber style taxi services or Shazam mobile music identification ability. The platform itself inspired the smartphone apps and brought about these solutions, just as it will be the smart city platform that fosters new opportunities for urban improvement.

The major difference with the smart city is the greater influence of the physical world. Through our own research at Memoori, and in wider reading, there has been significant discussion of the latest industrial revolution – the cyber-physical systems revolution. For the smart city 2.0 concept to take shape we must first meld the physical and cyber worlds, in order to create the data platform itself.

“The conduit for this very real potential is a technology infrastructure that is all around us every day. Something we wake up to, something that guides us throughout the day and something we really couldn’t operate without — lighting”, states Gordon.
LED light fixtures embedded with microphones, vibration sensors, public Wi-Fi capabilities, cameras, and other sensors that can be shared for many purposes and can be widely, and cost efficiently deployed. Lighting, beyond any other urban infrastructure, can enable widespread sensory inputs, creating a nervous system for an entire city.

Lighting is perfect because it is already almost everywhere in a city. It forms a ubiquitous network for capturing and transmitting data from city streets, to parks, to high-rise offices. Where there are about 327 million smartphones in the US, there are approximately 7 billion light fixtures. In terms of fixed physical infrastructure, no other technology platform compares to the pervasive nature of lighting and the potential to piggyback intelligent, connected solutions.

The global market for lighting controls in non-domestic buildings alone is expected to rise from $2.2 billion in 2015 to 3.7 billion in 2020 according to our latest in-depth lighting controls report. While LED usage is anticipated to expand from 28% today to 95% by 2025, unlocking tremendous value for the world to reduce energy cost and complexity in commercial enterprises.

To bring about this new cyber-physical world we need a new type of technology company – “the digital industrial company”. A company that is both comfortable dealing with data collection and transfer but also with hardware installation and maintenance.

Consider the establishment of Current by GE, Sidewalk Labs by Google, or even Silver Spring Networks to see this evolution taking place.

The smart city 2.0 is not a solution in itself, it is a platform that symbolises our urban transition into the cyber-physical era – built by digital industrial companies and developed not by governments but by citizen urban entrepreneurs.

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