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Smart cities: using data to shape our urban environments

Rebecca Merrett | May 2, 2014
Organisations in Australia and overseas provide insights into how they are using information to build more intelligent cities.

Monitoring Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro in Brazil has been developing a smarter city since 2010 when it opened an around-the-clock operation centre after experiencing damaging floods. The centre was first developed to do more sophisticated data analysis to help emergency services better prepare and respond to emergencies before being used for additional purposes.

The centre brings together 30 agencies into one central command centre where data from sensors, video feeds and social media is collected and analysed. Video data streaming is done in real time from 570 cameras from utility providers and the Secretariat of Public Security.

It includes an 80 square metre video wall -- the biggest in Latin America -- made up of 80, 46-inch screens. A smart map of the city has more than 120 layers of data. Around 30,000 metres of fibre optic cable connects the infrastructure in the centre.

"It's not unusual for Rio to have extreme weather; it's famous for its sharp and steep hills, mudslides and related heavy rains. Rio "narrowcasts" weather in its operations centre.

"We've used our weather modelling systems and weather forecasting to 'narrowcast' down to very small areas to predict how much rain will appear, when and under what circumstances," says Michael Dixon, general manager of smarter cities at IBM.

Using this narrowcasting, emergency response times have improved by 30 per cent, and it can predict 48 hours in advance where it is going to rain and how much rainfall will appear.

The city has also been working with the FIFA World Cup planning team on logistics to help prepare for the big event and ensure the city's infrastructure can support the surge in population.

"The Mayor of Rio, Eduardo Paes, had a vision some years ago when he thought that there was potential for Rio to host either the World Cup and/or the Olympics.

"He started to realise a higher level of management of the city would be essential to both convince authorities that Rio was the right city to host these events. They [Rio] started off with a very clear view that they wanted to have an understanding of what was happening in the city at any point in time," Dixon says.

The city is monitoring Twitter feeds during events to get a pulse of what's happening in the city and respond to people's concerns quickly. For example, there might be a huge amount of waste in a particular area that many people are tweeting about.

The team in the operations centre can identify common words in those tweets, the amount of tweets and locate where those tweets are coming from. Surveillance cameras can be used to confirm if there is a major problem, and then a waste disposal facility could act on it right away.


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