When you’re in the process of building a smart city demonstrator, a question, unsurprisingly, that comes up pretty frequently is ‘what is it that really makes a city smart?’
We all know that smart cities aren’t about trying to recreate a sci-fi movie vista, with flying cars and robot law enforcement. With CityVerve it’s much more grounded in harnessing technology, which is often invisible to the eye, to make people’s lives better.
When we looked at other projects around the world, we saw many amazing technologies – but they were limited at the point at which they try to link up their various smart applications. We decided that in CityVerve we would break down these siloes and establish a unified platform for all the use cases to feed into.
As our project begins to pick up steam – we’ve connected our first building, Community Forums are underway, and we’ve tested the use of smart sensors to help people get more out of their city – the realistic challenge of connecting these work streams and the data gathered by them becomes ever more pertinent.
Smart questions about IoT
However, just as soon as you start talking about data collection you need to consider how to keep that secure – and how to allay any (justifiable) fears that people may have about the storage and use of what’s being collected.
This naturally adds a new challenge to the process of building a platform with the flexibility to respond to a living, breathing city.
And in a project such as ours that incorporates so many data sources, it’s nigh-on impossible to use just a single data platform – so the challenge becomes even greater!
We know from the experience of other smart city projects that it’s vital that we avoid creating data siloes – the real power of CityVerve lies in our ability to share information to improve interrelated services.
It’s all about connecting the unconnected, and to achieve that reality it’s inevitable that our project should incorporate multiple data platforms.
Instead of trying to create a single limited and unscalable data engine, by copying data from multiple platforms, we will be deploying a simpler, unifying layer that sits above our existing hubs and platforms and provides a single way of access to an unlimited set of data sources .
We refer to this as our ‘platform of platforms’.
Professor John Davies has already outlined how BT’s Hypercat-enabled data hub will work to improve interoperability and break down siloes.
We’ll also be using Cisco’s ground-breaking Smart+Connected Digital Platform. This is a cloud-based set of tools that, when used together, allow for the creation of single, centralised layer on which inputs from across the city can be connected in a secure and seamless way.
In essence, it will give us the ability to draw a connection between all of Manchester’s various data-gathering points – think cameras, water meters, air quality monitors, traffic meters.
Most importantly, though, is how this approach to data capture allows us to share the data captured between the city agencies, public bodies, private companies and community organisations involved in the CityVerve project.
The new Smart+Connected Digital Platform’s early versions were tested as pilots in a number of cities across the world, including Adelaide, Copenhagen, Kansas City, Paris and Jaipur.
In keeping with our approach that learns from and builds on previous efforts to develop a working smart city, we’re taking on feedback from those cities’ leaders.
What’s been learned so far is that the benefits of a unified layer speak for themselves: sharing and understanding data becomes far easier, and scaling the results to new parts of the city (and other cities entirely) is suddenly more feasible too.
The platform of platforms is a key distinction for CityVerve and really plays into our mission of creating a blueprint for other smart cities to follow.
It helps us to address all of the different themes within the demonstrator together, rather than as separate entities.
It stands to reason, for instance, that a build-up in traffic will have an effect on air quality in the area, so it’s vital that those developing applications for a healthcare use case should have access this kind of relevant data.
A unified data platform means that environmental quality analysis could pick up a much richer and more detailed network of multiple sensor data-points in our test area, including temperature sensors, air quality and humidity.
Integrating these with clinical findings from test-groups could help a much wider group of sufferers to prepare for the day and manage their symptoms more pro-actively.
Manchester provides the ideal test bed for this project – owing to its size, which is just about perfect for assessing scalability both up and down.
Ultimately, however, our unified, ‘anti-silo’ approach feeds into our wider ambition to take CityVerve to the world: rather than developing a solution that fits Manchester and Manchester alone, we want to connect with other cities all over the world to work out how our smart city of today can become theirs in the future.