Lessons in building smarter cities

Most industry experts believe vehicle communication will drive the nascent stages of smart cities as they interact with not only each other but also with basically everything else in the infrastructure to improve traffic congestion and improve safety. It is this crucial communication between car and streetlights or even stop signs that will mark new achievements on the road to full autonomy and smoother traffic flows in urban areas.

Silicon Valley has taken steps to address issue. Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs unit has inked a deal to reinvent a waterfront district in Toronto, creating a prototype for the smart city. It plans to use data to guide its operation of some city services and regulating them.The tech giant has also unveiledits Coord initiative, which aims to be a cloud-based hub for mobility services.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates may also be getting into the game. He is buying and building his own city called Belmont, named after a Gates’ investment firm, Belmont Partners. The 25,000-acre space is on the extreme edges of the Phoenix suburbs in the US state of Arizona. Gates’ investment group is helping finance the building from the ground up but it’s unclear at this stage just how connected and ‘smart’ that city will be. Regardless, many existing cities are addressing the issue head-on but they may find it more difficult and expensive to upgrade legacy infrastructure.

The city of Los Angeles is investing $120Bn (£86Bn) in surface travel according to Adrienne Lindgren, economic policy manager at the office of economic development for Los AngelesMayor Eric Garcetti. She says: “The city has taken an aggressive position toward vehicle infrastructure. When we think about smart cities we can’t think of it as a new concept but rather one that’s been a long time in the making and is now expediting owing to extremely high levels of innovation across product types, many of them in consumer technology.”

Not only has it been a long time coming but, Lindgren says, the city deliberately takes the long road to be sure tech is not obsolete by the time it’s deployed and to give politicians and the public time to adjust as well. “Testing and proving concepts through pilots are important,” she notes. “On the government side, how quickly can agencies and departments revise procurement processes and long-standing policies to reflect not just the technology that comes out now but what technology will replace it in 10, 20, 30 years?

“We’re looking at a 50- to 70-year timeline for city development, so we have to be cautious not to go straight to fads that may or may not make sense from a long-term taxpayer investment perspective.” She points to the automated terminals at the Port of Los Angeles as one successful example, asserting that the technology moves goods more quickly into the supply chain than the manual process.

Managing the ‘X’ factor

As more vehicles and various parts of the infrastructure talk to each other, it’s still unclear who’s to navigate and who’s to steer when it comes to managing it all. Gene Munster, an analyst with Loup Ventures says: “A consortium of some type would be effective in creating an industry standard.” Munster points to a recent Loup research note that cites the examples of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, adding: “Out-communicating your rivals does not afford you an edge, so competition for this technology does not make sense. The higher goal is safety.” That said he doesn’t see a consortium driving innovation, but only working together on certain standards.

For her part, Lindren says: “Transit operations should always have a public oversight component, so even if one collaborates with tech on integrating technology into the vehicle infrastructure system, these systems can't be divorced from the public sector. “

Tom Kirschbaum, founder and CEO of Door2Door, a smart mobility platform based in Berlin agrees that the city should set the rules but he adds: “The public sector and its institutions are not designed to develop and run technology platforms – they need tech companies as trusted partners to support them. This applies to several dimensions around AV, EV, networks and inter-modal sharing services.”

Clearing up congestion

One obvious goal for smarter cities is improving the flow of traffic with the ultimate goal of reducing it. And of course it can’t become fully functional and maximise efficiency until more vehicles are V2X-enabled. That said, Carl Piva, vice-president of strategic programmes at TM Forum points out use cases that are early successes: “Once road signs are connected to V2X and also to a central traffic management system, the city has the ability to direct traffic away from congested areas, by using smart algorithms already implemented within these solutions.”

Piva added that improved and increased vehicle communication with infrastructure and other vehicles will help in times of danger. “Through V2I emergency vehicles can quite successfully connect to road infrastructure and create a path through which they can quickly navigate in a congested traffic environment. Alternatively, V2X could be used by the police to pull a car over.”

The other obvious use case that cities are working on is the reduction of traffic congestion in city centres. By using traffic management, smart parking and through administrative actions, industry insiders say the overall traffic situation can be improved. Lindgren notes that more information and data points will increase efficiency, with the effects “highly scalable” with good outcomes.However, she says: “I don't think it's reasonable to think of that as a long-term solution.  In the end, we need to build alternative infrastructure to move people through cities.”

One method of reducing congestion has already been employed for years and an executive in this industry says smarter ridesharing will help unclog many urban arteries. “Autonomous vehicles, with their ability to move in a much safer and more efficient way will play a huge role,” says Door2Door’s Kirschbaum. “However, today cities can do a lot already. Following a study of the OECD, the number of vehicles in a city can be reduced by 97% if intelligent pooling of trips and passengers happens, such as with ridesharing services.”

Kirschbaum asserts that it’s “crucial” to include these services into the transit infrastructure. “That is what Door2Door aims to do, as its mobility platform allows public transport operators to implement this kind of service… when cities design areas for AVs only, Pandora’s box will be opened and it will spread rapidly.”


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *