Dr. Renato De Castro
Smart City concept is not new. If you think only in the use of technology to solve urban problems or to make our life’s better we can easily recall the Egyptians building the pyramids, Chinese rising walls for public protection or the Romans creating a half-world empire using mobility strategies like paving roads and digging water channels. So, we can say that what makes our new cycle of “smart evolution” is definitely not only the use of technology. Smart City is a place where everything conspires to make your life better! This is my brand-new definition of 2017. A bit romantic, I agree, but I think it illustrates quite well the perspective of the citizens, a perceived urban reality that makes the difference between a successful or urban blundered project.
Citizens want a better city much more than a new city !
2016 was a fantastic year for me. Starting in Mumbai, India, in February and ending in Riga, Latvia, in December, I had the opportunity to visit 45 smart city projects, in 29 countries, 5 continents and to share my ideas in 34 official events as keynote speaker, chairman and moderator. From the less developed cities in Tanzania to New York, Tokyo or London we can witness projects blooming everywhere. It was important not only to discuss and refine my theory called City SmartUp, which consists in rethinking the planning and implementation of smart city projects under the contemporary concepts of startups. I decided to understand the world’s big picture behind the trend of smart cities and I can assure you, smart city is not a fashion, it is a deep mindset shift. And it is happening for real! Indeed, I believe that is not us that are making our cities smarter but the society that is evolving wiser.
Millennials will be almost 50% of world’s working force by 2020 !
To this extent framing the concept of smart cities in a more academic context, I would address at least 5 main pillars:
1) If in the past the main driver for evolution was technology, now and in the near future it will be even more imperative, but as an enabler and no more as the final output. Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and Internet of Everything (IoE) are heading the urban solutions.
2) All successful projects I visited in 2016 had a 100% citizen-oriented approach. As consequence public budgets are less important than final authentic results. Keep it simple and focused on solving real problems.
3) Citizens want a better city much more than a new city. Highlighting the DNA of the city and aiming a better quality of life are the new black.
4) Resilience, economic sustainability and competitiveness are keywords for cities, so the new smart city concept should be oriented to them. Not only the metropolises need to rethink their strategies, but also small cities and villages can use smart city or smart villages concepts to survive and succeed.
5) Creative, Sharing and Circular economies, concepts deeply connected with the millennial generation lifestyle, are the new social phenomenon. We should seriously consider their impacts in the modern urban planning. Millennials are already taking their role in our society and it is making a huge difference in the consumption behavior. According to the WTO, they will be almost 50% of world’s working force by 2020.
Recently the subject CITY is becoming a recurrent agenda also for companies. Amazon is investing now in a new campus concept in Seattle; Zappos has already started to probe its own concept in Las Vegas; and Google, through Alphabet, is running several urban projects. Also future-oriented projects are flourishing around the world. Artisanopolis, also named as The Floating City Of The Future, is one of these ‘utopias’. Question here is: who will pay for it: governments or the private sector? My answer is: why not us? Yes, we citizens, genuine people that live in physical cities, currently in need of real projects. Crowdfunding is very trendy, so does the concept of city projects sponsored by citizens make sense to you? I am not talking about asking for money, but to encourage people to be external financial stakeholders.
Among all the real projects I have visited and advised in 2016, the one that better illustrates this new concept is being developed by a sparkling startup from the Silicon Valley called UMBO CV, the cloud-first learning camera. The company was founded in 2014, focused in developing artificial intelligence (AI) technologies applied to video surveillance and in March 2016 they got their first major round of investment of almost three million US dollars. Their challenge is to develop a deep learning AI platform to address one of the most substantial problems world is facing now: Public Safety. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about high levels of criminality, experienced in Latin-American countries or the escalation of terrorism, experienced mainly by the European countries and The United States. Public safety currently is and will be for a long time among the top 3 hot topics in the smart cities debate. Umbo’s computer vision research division has developed and deployed to customers of its SmartDome cloud video camera Light, a state-of-the-art artificial intelligence capable of specifically identifying a person’s outline on a security video feed. Even today, the technology can do this with a minimum of false positive alerts, which plagued past attempts at people counting video analytics software. But the real deal here is in the future pipeline, where the algorithms can be enhanced to the point where it can identify human behaviors such as loitering, gathering crowds, trespassing, and even fights.
Crowdfunding: I am talking about encourage people to be external financial stakeholders.
They are competing with global players such as LG to reach a predictive system capable not only to learn and evolve with the past experiences, but mainly to predict crimes before happening. Does it ring any bell? Yes, exactly as shown in the classic Minority Report, an American science fiction movie directed by Steven Spielberg in 2002. The technology alone would be already disruptive and exciting enough to fill this entire article, but believe me, the good news are not that! Something bigger is blooming from this project that and it got my full attention.
As said before, the new concept of smart cities should be more than only technology to make our lives better. Umbo started a project called co-creating safer communities. The argument here is: by using artificial intelligence in video surveillance we have a higher level of control in framing and analyzing images. When cameras are used to safeguard a perimeter, all the images captured that are out of the area to be monitored are worthless. Imagine installing a video surveillance in your house, the images of the public areas like, parks, streets or even the front yards of your neighbors are not or should not be your business. So, why not donating them as open data to your city hall? Does it make sense to you? This is the fantastic idea behind the Umbo’s project. Naturally, all the sensitive controversies regarding privacy and liability are being considered. The first Umbo smart community is being piloted in Sacramento, California. Dozens have been installed in private homes, schools, and government installations. Umbo expects to sell thousands of SmartDome cameras and other future products.
Umbo solution will allow cities, doesn’t matter what size or budget, to develop a complete public -private camera system, mostly 100% crowdfunded by citizens. This is a concrete case of a concept that I have being discussing since 2015 called 4Ps or PPPP – Public-Private-People Partnership. It is not only a citizen-centered project but also co-created by the citizens. For 2017, UMBO is planning to leverage the platform applied technologies. South America and Europe are the top priorities in the go-global roadmap.
Technology is not the new keyword, velocity is the real disruption!
2017 will be doubtless a thrilling year for Smart Cities. We are forecasting an increase in disruptive technologies addressing urban problems. Uber, AirBnb, Hyperloop, Tesla Solar Energy are just the tip of the iceberg. A new revolution is emerging and we cannot block it. Some experts are naming it the 4th Industrial Revolution others the new digital divide, but they agree in one thing: technology is not the new keyword, velocity is the real disruption! So relax, but fasten your seat belt and be ready!