Dec 02

Smart Cities

Following Toyota’s ‘Woven City’ announcement, Rob Charlton examines the technology being developed in our cities and how we can make them smarter.

As our access to data continuously grows, the potential for smart cities has never been so exciting.

Toyota’s ‘Woven City’ concept is one of the most high-profile examples of what smart city technology can do.

Described as a 'living laboratory', the Woven City will be built at the base of Mt. Fuji in Japan. The project will be home to full-time residents and researchers working on the development of technology involving autonomy, robotics, personal mobility and smart homes.

There’s currently a lot of buzz around smart city technology on a macro level – things like the optimisation of energy usage and how the technology can have an impact on an area’s transport infrastructure – but the amount of technology also being used on a smaller, day-to-day level is seriously impressive.

Our cities are already pretty smart.

Look at the apps we use every day: Google Maps, Trainline, Uber, the native Weather apps on smartphones. These tools all provide us with a mass of data about transport and our local environments.

Companies such as Great Portland Estates already allow their tenants to manage the lifts and temperature in their buildings. If we take that a step further and think about how we can connect city infrastructure to individual buildings, we could see even more benefits of smart technology.

For example, airports could manage people movement within the terminal so that you can plan how long it will take you to get to your gate. If we could access people movement in tube stations, we’d be able to choose which station to use depending on which is the quietest at the time.

Our challenge is to work out how we want to interact with our cities and optimise the new technology. As we gather this information and start to apply artificial intelligence, it could provide answers to questions that we hadn’t even thought of.

The information will, however, need to be open-source and accessible in order to encourage innovation.

We must also consider that emerging generations prefer to connect with each other through their mobile devices rather than face-to-face. We need to be aware of this when designing our cities but also be aware of the impact of the diminishing social interaction this causes.

Much of the work to date has been around how we move around cities. I think something for us to start to consider is how we can use this infrastructure and data to tackle environmental issues and how we can make our cities safer for those using them.

We’ve made a great start with smart cities - even if we don’t realise it. The more accessible and commonplace that this data becomes in our society, the more successful that smart city projects will be.