The Birth of a New Niche — Smart Cities
By 2050, 66% of the world’s inhabitants will live in cities. Rapid urbanization entails global challenges, such as air pollution, power shortages, clean drinking water, and overpopulation. The demand from cities for technological solutions to these problems now makes up a global market of $1.5 trillion in value.
Therefore, these smart cities of the future are already becoming an integral part of the present day. In order for quick and comprehensive implementation of this concept to be realized, support from both the state and from investors is important. Therefore, in some countries, the creation of smart cities begins with the digitalization of the government itself. Only then will they prolong these programs and initiatives for the transition to digital in other areas of life and society.
How Do Cities Become Smarter?
The developer Belmont Partners, owned by the Bill Gates-controlled investment group Cascade Investment, has acquired a huge piece of land to the west of Phoenix, Arizona to construct the new “smart” city of Belmont. According to the local news portal AZ Central, the billionaire and founder of Microsoft invested $80 million in the project.
Officially, the company Delaware LLC is listed as an investor. 80,000 homes will be located on an area of 24,800 acres, including 3,800 acres which will be allocated for industrial, retail and office buildings. Almost the same amount of space will be dedicated for public spaces, and 470 acres will be left for schools.
From the very outset, Belmont will be designed using the latest technological advances: High-speed networks and data centers, new production technologies and automated logistics hubs will be deployed in this city of the future, with driverless vehicles moving along its roads. In addition, a highway will be built on the way to Belmont (its construction has not yet received financing) connecting Reno, Nevada and Mexico.
The introduction of electronic document management is one of the fundamental areas of development in the Smart Cities niche. Recently one of the leaders in digital signatures, SignRequest, announced they are going with blockchain-based solutions from LTO Network to secure the documents that are signed on their electronic signature platform and application. LTO Network seems to have taken up a stable position in this niche, with clients such as Merin, CMS, AVR, IBM and the Dutch Government. Employing Bitcoin-NG protocol, the network pre-approves transactions instantly before the hashes are stored on the LTO Network. That Proof-of-Existence approach can be a solution for the processing of documents, emails, and other off-chain data.
The financial and legal sectors traditionally introduce new technologies quite slowly. However, in the case of digital signatures, on the contrary, they are mastering this technology more quickly. This multibillion-dollar industry, with its aggregate growth rate of 31% per year, is proof that this technology can still offer solutions that will increase efficiency and promote business.
Japan’s Panasonic is developing the infrastructure of a “smart city” near Denver, Colorado. This project, CityNow, should be completed by 2026.
On an empty plot with an area of 1.6 km², devices for distributing free Wi-Fi, LED street lights, air pollution sensors, solar panels and surveillance cameras have already been installed. A localized group of electricity sources will allow the district’s infrastructure to operate off the grid for 72 hours in the event of a blackout. Panasonic is also preparing the city for driverless cars: In the spring of 2018, plans are to put the first driverless bus route into service.
The United States of America
In the US, many cities are taking part in the global competition to build smart infrastructure: New York monitors its fire-prone buildings and is installing 7,500 Wi-Fi high-speed (1 Gb / s) access points for free Internet, and Boston is building solar-powered benches that will analyze the composition of the air and charge phones. However, Chicago is definitely outperforming all its fellow American cities in this area.
In the second (after New York) US economic center and its largest transportation hub, it all started with the launch of the city’s WindyGrid platform in 2012. It collects all the information about the city of Chicago: from bus schedules and 911 emergency call statistics to historical facts about buildings. In addition to organizing information, the project tracks suspicious activity through a network of HD cameras embedded in street lighting systems. The information forms the basis of the Plenario site, which provides this information via open access and with a link to a map.
Among other things, Chicago’s municipal authorities have come up with a way to link the data from utility service calls with the readings from the sensors installed in garbage cans, moisture content and soil composition information, and even the rat control system. As reported by the Chicago municipal authorities, the effectiveness of the fight against rat proliferation has increased by 20%. The sensors on the garbage cans, incidentally, are solar-powered.
In 2013, UI LABS launched an initiative to develop Chicago’s smart infrastructure, called City Digital. It is developing in four different areas: “Transport,” “energy management,” “water and sanitation,” and “infrastructure.” The latter two have seen the launches of pilot projects. One of them assesses the ability of green space to reduce the level of wastewater. The sensors installed in the drainage system send information to a cloud-based server where it is analyzed, and as a result of which recommendations are made for the location of future green areas in the city.
The second pilot project is one developing a navigation platform for the city’s subterranean infrastructure. With the help of sonar devices, a virtual map of previously laid water and gas pipes, electrical and telecommunication networks, and the subway, is created. It will be used to reduce costs when repairing leaks and laying down new networks. In October, new pilot projects in the areas of “transport” and “energy management” have been promised. However, perhaps the most interesting and high profile of the entire city’s projects has been the Array of Things.
The UK government is one of the pioneers in terms of support given to the country’s digital development.
In the late 2000s, the UK began to utilize open data. The first step in the digital program was the digitization of votes in elections. Then, 25 additional online public services became available to the country’s population. Big data is accumulated from 30 sources and combined into public information registers which are freely accessible. This approach allows for savings on the cost of communication, speeds up the exchange of data, and helps to identify past mistakes. Thus, in 2010, it was possible to “digitize” tax losses for the previous year, which amounted to £4 billion. This increased the total amount of the “tax hole” to £42 billion. The reason for this was the loss of some members of the population’s tax returns. The message here is that, with the use of big data, the likelihood of such errors occurring again decreases to zero.
In early 2017, the UK government introduced a new digital development strategy. It emphasizes 7 main areas: digital infrastructure, access to everyone’s digital data, better conditions for business via the Internet, helping businesses to digitize, security in cyberspace, public online service, and the use of accumulated data in the economy.
There are five technology centers planned to support these initiatives. Free digital skills training will be provided to the public. £17.3 million will be invested into robotics and AI research. By 2035, the government expects a return on its investment of £654 billion.
Norway was one of the first countries to introduce an online tax return accounting platform.
Innovation activities of companies there are being supported by the introduction of tax incentives within the framework of the SkatteFUNN program. The return on each NOK 1m invested (about €107,000) is estimated at NOK 1.8 million of value added annually to each company over the three year period after receiving state support. The state’s share in investing in innovative business goes up to 50%, while the remaining funds are attracted from private investors and companies.
In 2017, the Norwegian government announced a NOK 1.2 billion increase in investment in innovative development. The main items earmarked for expenditure are R & D infrastructure development, talent support and attracting the best scientists, as well as the internationalization of projects.
In Denmark, business and public communication with government agencies have almost universally been translated into an online format — up to 98% of all inquiries come in via online services.
In 2001, Denmark was the first in the world to introduce an e-government strategy.
Since 2011, there has been a unified strategy for the digital development of the country. The “digital self-service” aspect of life for the population and business has become obligatory. For access to public services, and all communication with governing bodies, online services are used. The economic effect of this decision is a savings of about $136 million annually which can be reallocated to other projects. It also uses a single data directory, one account for authorization on various services, and secure digital signatures on mobile phones. In the field of education, digital exams are being introduced and electronic applications employed.
Singapore is in an active developmental stage, and provides almost all public services online to the public. Singapore has been on the path of innovative development since 1999: There are new laws on the protection of intellectual property, the privatization of government departments, and the creation of a research infrastructure.
There are 3.3 million citizens use unique digital identification, called SingPass, to access government services online. The MyInfo digital platform is used for data storage as well as for access to it within 17 different agencies: from licensing to obtaining resident status. Security of information in SingPass is provided using two levels of verification. The chat bot works on 15 government sites, reducing the call center workload by 60%. Mobile applications point out the locations of people in urgent need of help to volunteers, and help warn police about suspicious objects (potentially left by terrorists). The state also provides support to low-income and elderly people by providing them with free Internet access.
What Is the Secret to Success?
When one compares the approaches of the leading countries in the area of state-management digitization, a number of significant trends that fit into a certain system become apparent.
Information about a person, including health, income level, place of residence, skills and other things, is combined into big data, some of which remains openly accessible, while the rest is reliably protected and restricted by access rights. Digitizing data reduces the workload of call centers and local administrations, which then reduces the cost of maintaining them. The X-Road Estonian Unified Database unites 52,000 enterprises and provides 99% of all interaction with the state structures of the country. It saves 800 years of Estonian total working time every year.
For access to public services, a single account is created that operates in all sectors (from ministries and tax services to the social security fund and clinics). This reduces the waiting time for a response when initiating contact, and facilitates citizens’ access to public services.
Innovation is supported by the state by reducing the tax burden and providing services at a reduced rate or free of charge. The growth rate of the economy is accelerating. Digitalswitzerland combines the work it does into three areas: attracting global talent, providing assistance to digital companies and enhancing the Swiss ecosystem for startups.
The objectives of a national digital strategy should correspond to the priorities of the country’s development. Adherence to this rule allows the state and the economy to develop purposefully, and at an accelerated pace. The key areas of focus for the digital government of the Netherlands are open data to counter corruption and open government data for the delivery of quality public services.
New transformations require constant evaluation and adjustment. This helps to identify errors and fix them in time. The Australian Digital Health Program is not in a hurry to innovate across the board. New products and ideas are first introduced in limited areas, and if they are successfully applied, that experience is then spread throughout the country.
Instead of technology, the interaction of structures is the primary area of focus. Networking, the sharing of knowledge and practices and joint activities all encourage the improvement of the quality of the study of issues and simplify mutual understanding between structures. A joint project between Estonia and UK’s TechLink supports the interaction of innovative companies and scientists in the two countries, organizing the exchange of information on cybersecurity, robotics, the development of smart cities, etc.