You hear a lot of people talking about “smart cities” these days. That may not mean anything to you. Maybe you never thought your city was “dumb”?
Well, let’s see. In your city, do you think people consume too much, and waste unnecessary energy and resources? Is there too much traffic? Do you want to help the environment, but don’t know the best way? Or are you fed up with not having information at your fingertips about urban services, and not having the power to improve them?
Well, you probably answered yes to at least one of those questions. And by that definition, maybe your city isn’t quite dumb – but it could probably be a little smarter.
For me, smart cities are about using ICT to make your life better, and greener.
Many of us are now familiar with smartphone apps (often powered by open data) that tell you when your bus is coming, or if your local bike hire station is empty, in real time. They’re very handy!
But this is just one simple example. Looking further ahead, more and more people could have energy management systems giving them real-time information and instant feedback about their energy use at home. Systems so that small energy sources (like the solar panel on your roof) integrate perfectly with the grid. Rubbish bins that tell the authorities when they need to be emptied. Or trams that draw energy from the grid when they accelerate – and give it back when they brake. (For stuff further in the future you can also see some of the ideas being floated in our Future and Emerging Technologies programme, which I spoke about yesterday).
None of this is science fiction. Indeed in many cases the inventions and ideas that could power smart cities are already out there, and the technology in principle available: we just need to deploy them on the ground.
That’s not easy: there’s a few barriers to get over. Like to break down the boundaries between, and challenge the vested interests of, the sectors involved. Like to ensure solutions are adaptable and interoperable: so we can keep pace with a huge rate of change – and let new ideas easily enter markets. And like finding a way to use data transparently and openly, without breaching privacy.
Most of all, we need fast broadband networks, which are the ultimate tool so systems can connect and information flow freely, so ICT can support energy and transport systems. Just another reason why we need to get Every European Digital.
But none of these problems is insurmountable. In other similar areas, I’ve found that a “European Innovation Partnership” can be a great way to overcome those kind of barriers.
That’s why we launched today a partnership for smart cities, looking in particular at where the ICT, transport and energy sectors overlap.
This could make life better for the 2 in 3 Europeans who live in a city. And help cut the c. 75% of emissions that also take place there.
And that’s worth pushing for!