HxGN BlogArticle

Living Smart: Digitalising Cities Today While Preparing for Tomorrow

A “smart city” is more easily conceptualised than created. In order to achieve this lofty goal, municipal leaders globally must carefully approach the implementation and integration of digital technologies while managing the transition from legacy analogue systems. 

As populations shift toward urban centres, cities are becoming more sophisticated and complex. According to the United Nations, approximately 55% of the world’s population currently lives in urban areas, and that figure is expected to grow to nearly 70% by 2050.

Amidst this shift, there will continue to be more at stake. As one example, every city is acutely aware of the impact climate change will have on its citizens and infrastructure. While there’s plenty of debate about the degree to which humans are influencing more frequent natural disasters and higher intensity of environmental extremes, there is another tsunami intensifying that is completely of human creation — the deluge of data created by connected people and things. However, because data is being created so quickly at such high volumes, IoT data analysis often isn’t much more reliable than a weather forecast. (In other words, it’s good, but not great, and only becoming more unpredictable.) As we build and re-build cities to be “smarter,” the technological capabilities — and vulnerabilities — will continue to increase exponentially.

In every city, there are countless parts that constitute the whole. Municipal leaders, private businesses, contractors, technology developers and citizens all must acknowledge and carefully navigate their interconnections to develop smart solutions that will help their cities thrive. The “Smart City” concept promises a way forward, where digital solutions help solve real, human problems that continue to perplex our cities.

Build, Mobilise and Protect: Three Imperatives for the Smart City

Technologies that are truly transformative have three critical components: they are digital-first, infinitely connected and innately intelligent. These components are the basis for what Hexagon calls autonomous connected ecosystems (ACE). A truly “Smart City” is an ACE, where the digital and physical worlds converge through data capture, analysis and application. In order to achieve this ideal, city leaders must implement and integrate digital solutions that effectively build infrastructure, enable mobility and protect the people.

Infrastructure is the heartbeat of every city, and digital solutions make it easier to conceptualise, plan and build cityscapes while optimising use of resources.

“With more than half of the world’s population predicted to be housed in major urban areas, cities must become smarter and approach infrastructure needs with more intelligent solutions,” said Maria Otero Cuevas, vice president of technology for Hexagon’s Geosystems division. “From using aerial mapping technology that combines nadir and oblique imaging and LiDAR in one sensor to mobile mapping platforms that capture above and below ground assets in one pass, digitalising assets and procedures is enabling cities to build, mobilise and protect citizens and infrastructure.”

Furthermore, mobility within a smart city is not only about transportation. Mobilising a city also means providing access to data at all times — for example, connecting digital maps to real-life actions in real time.

“We are seeing immense growth in the number of sensors providing constant streams of data, from satellites to UAVs to sensors mounted on cars, backpacks, traffic lights and buildings,” noted Bart Adams, director of products and innovation with Hexagon’s Geospatial division. “Deep learning can help process this data quickly, getting the information we need to fuel the processes of understanding what is happening right now. Meanwhile, powerful, cloud-based apps make it possible for departments to connect, perform detailed analysis of data on the fly — without explicit programming — and present the information to stakeholders and citizens.”

Protecting a city is first and foremost about keeping citizens secure, whether that’s through public safety operations or emergency response systems. But a safe city also means resilient infrastructure and services as well as disaster response and recovery. An innately intelligent, safe city means all systems are go, all the time.

“Public safety agencies need and want more data to solve problems, but the gap between data generation and data usage is growing exponentially wider,” said Kalyn Sims, chief technology officer for Hexagon’s Safety & Infrastructure division. “Whether it’s a crime hotspot map or a report to a city official, the fundamental problem is the same — getting the right information as quickly and easily as possible and presenting it in a way that people understand so they can solve problems.

“The real value is when advanced analytics are embedded seamlessly into the workflows of core systems to provide real-time decision support and situational awareness in the background,” Sims added. “Continuous, real-time analytics alert users, trigger responses and provide recommendations as events unfold in real time.”

It’s easy to present an idea for new digital technology that will improve processes and make lives better. The challenge is understanding how it connects to other technologies, leading to a fully digitalised, connected, intelligent and ultimately autonomous “smart city.” Moving forward, those that hope to achieve this lofty “smart” status will be forward-thinking on the latest technology, but they won’t stop there. They will integrate all systems seamlessly, connecting and protecting data across projects, processes and people.

To learn more about Hexagon’s solutions for Smart Cities, please visit hexagon.com/smartcity.