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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.

Improving New York City's transport system
NYC is also a leading smarter city, and is using data to better assess how it should introduce new infrastructure in its transport system.

"We have something called the Traffic Information System, managed by the Department of Transportation. What they'll do is request traffic studies and gather all the data available about an intersection [to assess] whether they will develop an intervention for it, whether they want to put in new markings, or to remove or add a lane, add a bike lane, or add a pedestrian marking - something like that," says Nicholas O'Brien, acting chief analytics officer for the City of New York.

"So they will put additional traffic count monitors there, and take data from the taxi cabs that are sending out GPS signals to determine how quickly they are moving through there and where the potential problems are."

The city is also doing a proof of concept to apply machine learning to its traffic cameras for car and pedestrian counts to better plan interventions on its streets.

The city is also using microtargeting in its 'Notify NYC' system for emergency notification. For example, it is able to geolocate specific alerts to mobile phones to notify people in the relevant area that a child has gone missing, or there's a major weather event coming.

"It's still early stages in determining what we can do with the information coming from phones. And right now we have a lot of privacy concerns around it," says O'Brien.

IoT, M2M challenges
Standardisation and interoperability are still challenges many infrastructure companies in Australia and around the world are trying to wade through when it comes to building a smart city.

Smart Grid Australia's Budde says the smart meter rollout in Victoria is an example of this. "What you now see in Victoria with the smart meter rollout is the various energy operators are using different smart meters that are not interoperable," he says.

"If you are a retailer across several of those organisations, you cannot find what is the best solution for one of your customers because you have to go through three different systems. So how smart is that? I think interoperability is one of the key issues in machine-to-machine and Internet of Things."

NICTA's Vitsounis agrees that disparate systems make data sharing a challenge, using the example of Port Botany and how trust can be an issue when it comes to the various people sharing data.

"You always have various interactions, various players that have to coordinate. But at the same time they are also competitors and each one has to define its own competitive advantage. It takes time, you need to build the relationships to be a trustworthy party and get this data."


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