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  • Triinu Lukas

Dumb smart cities in dire need of new technologies. A hint for your new startup

Wanna know how your city of 5 million people could save hundreds of lives per year, reduce crime by 30-40% and make healthcare more efficient? There’s a word for it - SMART CITY! And the facts above were just a fraction of what NEW technologies could do when combined with smart data and transparent (data-)governance systems. Why is it called a smart city? That definition from Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers for sure doesn’t allow you to miss it: "A smart city brings together technology, government and society to enable the following characteristics: smart cities, a smart economy, smart mobility, a smart environment, smart people, smart living, smart governance." Did someone say “smart”? Seems like the formation of smart cities puts quite some tons of demands on everybody involved. Am I not allowed to be dumb any more? Nope. Our species needs you to make correct choices in terms of what you consume, where you live and what your activities are.

Since smart city solutions need first investments that are greater than the status quo (that will be back in your pocket rather sooner than later), all parties of city-life must have one vision - to keep our world beautifully evolving. So what technologies are we talking about that see massive growth and funding in the really near future?

Smart city looks like this…

(Source: Canva)

We can see that the smart use of data is everything and I must cliché here: data is our gold today. Especially for smart cities, since they breathe from sensors and connected devices that collect and analyze data. Data about public transport, e.g. how can I use both electric scooters + buses to get from A to B the fastest. Data about traffic management: I want to go around where the traffic is busiest. Cities also want to end congestion, since this not only takes time from passengers' lives but makes air healthier, reduces traffic accidents and helps emergency institutions help faster, to name some more reasons. That’s why cities need to build optimal mobility infrastructure where they get data from cameras, sensors, satellites etc to flow into their transport management systems, be processed and analysed with AI. Data about power distribution: we both love our environment and would like to fight against climate change, otherwise we wouldn’t be here. That’s why I love you, Reader! ❤ Data about where the street light bulb is broken down. EtcEtcEtcEtc. You know, in order our lives could be the dream ones. I wouldn’t call that someone’s dream life:

(Source: Photo by Mumtahina Tanni from Pexels)

And here’s where the data about smart waste management comes in handy.

So the idea of a smart city is to use data and technology to make everyday life easier and better for the people who live and work in the city, while optimizing the use of resources.

Data is our gold nowadays, since who owns data, can make better and more future-proof decisions. The easiest way to describe a smart city is that it has lots of sensors and meters to collect the data and then some central remote controls that show it in order to analyze how strong are all the parties performing.

And there are a tons of smart-city technologies already made, e.g.

1. IoT for electricity consumption

Great examples of IoT are the demand-responsive energy supply devices. Estonian Fusebox provides a demand-response aggregator for companies to enable maximum use of renewables in their electricity consumption. So they’ve reduced 420 tonnes of CO2 emissions so far. And an home-owner-scale example of similar electricity-grid “smartificator” is a smart thermostat Themo, that reduces your electricity price by 32% on average. These kinds of solutions are a must for adapting to green energy. Laava Tech is another company that proves how much cheaper the smart city life is. Their solution helps you save up to 90% on your energy consumption if you should be the one dealing with indoor-farming.

2. IoT for traffic solutions

Traffic jams are a curse of city life. Smart systems help to optimize car traffic. You’ve probably seen tabloos that read something like “drive 50 km/h for a green wave”. It’s a real simple form of using sensors for understanding how many cars are there and calculating the speed for a green wave of traffic lights. But there are more elegant comprehensive systems as well. In China, there’s the City Brain Lab that develops city-scale AI models. One of their products is the pedestrian and traffic forecasting system. They’ve done quite some projects already, but as an example, their solutions for Sichuan’s expessways has reduced traffic congestion on main roads by 30%, accidents by 20% and they’ve calculated that the incident handling speed is increased by 50%. Traffic-related accidents are one of the things we’d like to eliminate. Bercman Technologies is providing solutions to decrease traffic accidents, one of these is their smart pedestrian crosswalk that notifies users about possible traffic situations.

3. IoT for smart waste management

Many companies don’t know that they’d make lots of use for managing their trash remotely (e.g. Contelligent’s sensors in your cans + software at hand). It, of course, saves them from sneak-peeking into their smelly trash cans (oh, boy! what there is to be found!) and doing dull work by emptying the half-empty ones. BigBelly Solar does the same thing city-level. It detects when a bin is full, crushes the waste inside the bin and makes garbage collection intelligent.

4. ICT solutions for open governance (to improve processes)

One of the key factors for success for smart city solutions are how well are they communicated to consumers and how involved the latter are. Yes, it’s mostly the city that takes the responsibility to integrate smart technologies and processes into a whole, but there is much more to smart city than that. It could actually empower communities - to share resources, to report problems (referring to the openly available data) etc. Purest form of empowering individual citizens to use city-data is the Smart Citizen Kit. It’s a cool tool for monitoring noise and air quality data from the local environment. The data is streamed to an online platform where it can be compared with other smart citizens’ the data from all over the world and from other points in time.

5. Digitized circular solutions

Full potential of smart cities can be reached together with circular solutions. Although by smart we mean mostly data-driven solutions, I’d say smart cities are part of the overall future circular economy, that makes most efficient use of resources that we already have produced. There are great examples of data-driven startups that are helping cities close their loops of consumption. Biopolus’s BioMakery produces intermediary products from wastewater and organic waste and has digitized the processes, for instance soil management and plant-watering. Closing The Loop recycles IT-hardware.

But that’s not enough

Right now, none of the cities is that intelligent yet, since, similarly to AI, there is a lack of totally integrated solutions. So the journey is quite at the beginning and that should encourage tomorrow’s entrepreneurs to hop on and learn from what’s being done so far in terms of city planning. Because one cannot use new solutions when there’s nowhere to put them, right? There’s the catch with smart city technologies - there’s an intrinsic need for cooperation with local governments on city planning. You can’t innovate in isolation. I think this is one thing making the process slower but at the same time you’re provided with close connections with your customers (usually local government or citizens) to be able to really understand their needs. When you then can deliver what they need, then you should have access to large quantities of projects and consumers.

We need holistic approach and data-conscious governance

There’s this cool project in Estonia by Wolfscape that is dealing with integrating urban architecture and smart technologies to create a zero emissions climate-neutral district. And there’s a list of cities considered leading the way. They have recognized how data helps to optimize all aspects of city life for a smoother living environment and are actively making use of big data. But as I said, we’re dumb yet and smart city requires a very intelligent and holistic approach to city-planning. There’s one company every city should know that has taken its mission to help cities turn smart. It’s Kausal from Finland (a cutting edge society in that regard). Their web page explains: “We help cities address the climate crisis by providing tools to plan, manage and communicate climate efforts. The solutions we build leverage collaboration and systematic use of data.” After Kausal is already reached for, cities and startups should look for a mission called “100 climate-neutral cities by 2020” by European Commission that states to support these kinds of initiatives.

So there’s so much room for your idea!

YOU can, too, be part of making cities smart! How? In case of even just a slight interest in the smart city topic, you can get more insights into what it is and how experts suggest it is best to startup there from a recent panel organized by Cleantech ForEst. Please view the recording HERE. One of the key takeaway points was that when you have a great idea for smart city technologies then today is the best day in the history of our planet to get it out of your drawer because there’s so much money pouring in for cleantech, from the European Commission and elsewhere (if interested in suitable funding opportunities for your idea, contact Estonian cleantech roof organization Cleantech ForEst - they’ll probably know). And because just now there’s this wonderful new Beamline Accelerator with a program focusing exactly on smart city and energy startups! If you have a great startup they’ll help make it fly with the cleantech and business expert knowledge - a rare combination aside from programs that mostly boost pure digital solutions. It’s gonna get so much easier to scale your idea with their high-level international cleantech businesses and regulative bodies network. So apply HERE and master your life from this day on!


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