Smart Cities: Are they the way forward or should they be left behind?

As we approach the end of another year, one that seen the release of the iPhone X, the newest phone to the Apple brand that has the ability to unlock using facial recognition, as well as the release of the Tesla Model 3 – an electric car offering more than 200 miles driving distance on a single charge, we wonder what’s ahead in terms of global trends and technology.

One concept I believe we will be seeing more of is the ‘Smart City’.

Introduced in 2010 by global technology companies, the Smart City concept was initially seen as an opportunity to sell digital transformation and new technology into big city systems. When questions were raised on the value of the solutions coming from these companies from the city and the citizens’ perspectives, the concept shifted to focusing on citizens and providing services for them.

The Smart City concept caught people’s imagination just as the smart phone and digital transformations were spreading across the world at a phenomenal rate.

I would be lost without my iPad. It’s the one piece of technology I couldn’t do without. From helping me keep on top of emails to staying in touch with family when I’m travelling on business, my trusty iPad is with me wherever I go.

I believe this is the case for most consumers today. There is a need to always be connected, whether it’s to Wi-Fi to access the latest breaking news or charging facilities because our battery is low.

One of the trends of a Smart City is incorporating sustainability and energy efficiency methods into the city’s development. Solar power and other renewable energy sources are quickly becoming a hallmark of Smart City planning, so much so that Germany has set a goal for the entire country to run on sustainable energy by 2050. They are well on their way to achieving this goal as 10 of the country’s cities were named in the top 100 Smart Cities of 2017!

One of the requirements for solar energy is sunshine and as we know, that’s not something that we are blessed with in Northern Ireland.

Belfast however, is embracing the Smart City concept in other ways and launched the Smart Belfast Framework in September 2017. The framework focuses on harnessing new technologies and data science in ways that support local economic growth and includes:

–      Growing the Economy: Creating jobs and investment

–      Living Here: Making life better for all residents

–      City Development: Creating a competitive and sustainable city

–      Working and Learning: Connecting people to opportunities

Whilst the framework doesn’t include sustainable energy priorities, Belfast City Council has taken steps to integrate solar energy into the city.

Two Street Charge units were installed by our company, Environmental Street Furniture, in the grounds of City Hall in March 2017. The Street Charge units enable people to recharge their mobile devices by USB connection and are designed to complement the free Wi-Fi that is provided by Belfast City Council in public areas of Belfast, as part of the Smart Cities programme. The latest projections from the Catapult ‘Future Cities’ Global review shows that the Smart Cities market is expected to grow by 20% per year from $300bn in 2015 to over $750bn in 2020, with at least 88 smart cities throughout the world by 2025, compared to 21 in 2013 (IHS Markit, 2014).

ESF is also embracing the Smart City trend with the recent launch of our Stellar Smart Bench, which we designed and manufactured ourselves. The Stellar bench is a versatile outdoor Smart Bench that provides mobile device charging using solar power autonomy, as well as having the ability to be individually customised with features that include data gathering.

So is the Smart Cities concept something that we should prepare for?

Personally, I believe Smart Cities will become more prevalent in the future. With the advancements in digital technology and the need to be ever connected, it’s the next step for consumers to have greater access to technology and I’ve no doubt that citizens will demand it.

At ESF, we pride ourselves on our ability to be innovative and meet the demands of consumers, which is why we are introducing a new range of ‘Smart’ features into our street furniture products. These features include:

·     Public Wi-Fi availability

·     Speakers for public announcements

·     Count passing pedestrian traffic

·     Fill monitoring for bins

·     Solar energy power

·     Measure temperature and environmental data

·     Measure air quality and sound

·     LED colour lighting

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