Only recently, smart cities were at the forefront of discussions of innovation. The concept, first given life in Los Angeles during the 1970’s, soon became synonymous with digital transformation and general societal progress. With 70% of the world’s population expected to live in cities by 2050, it’s easy to see why the concept has elicited such excitement over the years. However, over the past decade or so there has been some confusion as to what we actually mean when we refer to smart cities.
Some in Europe have opted to avoid it entirely, preferring to use ‘living labs’ as a means of using technological innovation to solve urban problems. Despite this lack of consensus on terminology, the concept of smart cities has experienced a resurgence over the past year, as the pandemic prompted organisations and governments alike to look for new ways to use technology to reinvent urban spaces and improve citizens’ lifestyle and wellbeing. Like many others, NTT has been exploring how to leverage some of the most exciting technological innovations to further the realisation of smart cities. Today, we’ll be delving into some of the most exciting examples of this, and what it means for the future of urban development.
The Woven City
When it comes to smart cities, innovation cannot operate in a vacuum. Technologies such as autonomous vehicles are essential for the evolution of smart cities, and vice versa. Last year, NTT announced they were working with Toyota to further the development of automated vehicles and their relationship with smart cities. Today, we can share some of the progress that has been made.
Built at the foot of Mount Fuji, the “Woven City” is exploring the latest smart city innovations. The city uses sensors and cameras, placed along roads, buildings and traffic lights to gather a plethora of data, from pedestrian traffic to precipitation. This data is then processed by optical networks and data centres to create a digital twin, before being fed back to autonomous vehicles. Making this data available in real-time will go a long way to create a safe environment in which autonomous cars can operate without the need for human intervention.
Innovations in the Woven City are not limited to vehicles, or even public services. Over the past year, considerable work has been done to facilitate the creation of smart homes with a special focus on sustainability. Powered by hydrogen, these homes include features such as automated rubbish disposal and refrigerator filling. These represent just a selection of the innovations being explored in the Woven City, and whilst some of them may seem futuristic, NTT believes within the next 5-10 years the technology will be ready for application across the globe.
Chicago Navy Pier
On the other side of the world, NTT is using similar smart technology to help cities and businesses manage their transition into a post-pandemic world. Having previously worked with the City of Las Vegas to enhance public safety, NTT is using smart solutions to help Chicago Navy Pier, a popular leisure destination, reopen safely after the pandemic. The project includes using optical sensors and data analytics to help manage capacity, which will play a vital role in allowing visitors to return in a safe manner. These visitors will be provided with critical real-time information that allows them to make informed decisions and help them prepare for their trip.
One of the key concerns around smart city technology is the holding of data and ensuring any such data is managed in a transparent manner. With NTT Smart Solutions, there is no retention of collected data; it remains only for the time cycle required, in compliance with data privacy and data retention policies. In terms of next steps, NTT hope to scale the project and help more businesses with their ‘back to work’ solutions and emerge safely from COVID-19 restrictions and beyond.
The Future of Smart Cities
There’s no doubting the role smart cities stand to play in our future. With more of us moving to urban areas, any type of technological innovation that aids with the running of public services and creating a better environment for citizens is likely to be embraced. From automated vehicles and resident safety through to the monitoring and reduction of our energy consumption, smart solutions can help make these ambitious ideas a reality. A McKinsey report found that the implementation of such technologies could improve some quality-of-life indicators by anywhere between 10-30 percent. Such innovations will play a vital part in our pursuit of a more connected and sustainable world. These values are at the heart of NTT, and I look forward to seeing where these innovations can take us in the future.