cities in the metaverse

Cities in the metaverse

You may think it is just the latest marketing hype or technology buzzword, but the metaverse is getting increasing attention by city leaders who are eager to know how their communities may take advantage of it.

The metaverse – as the next evolution of the internet integrating physical and digital experiences – is set to potentially improve city services and urban life, if deployed well.

In South Korea, Seoul announced its ambitions back in November 2021 and planned huge investments about it. The local government has recently released the beta version of “Metaverse Seoul and aims to have a full environment for all public services by 2026. The first official release is scheduled for the end of this year, as soon as feedback collection and bug fixing steps are completed.

Other projects are on their way. In China, Shanghai aims to cultivate a USD 52 billion metaverse industry by 2025, while Guangzhou is establishing a metaverse industry zone and launching specific measures and funding options to boost local human capital, R&D, and technology developments. In the UAE, Dubai is implementing a “Metaverse Strategy” to become one of the world’s top 10 metaverse economies. Key pillars are augmented and virtual reality, as well as digital twins to provide a virtual representation of places, objects, and systems.

The National League of Cities urged municipal governments in US to learn more about the metaverse and what enables it. Technologies like blockchain and the Internet of Things are foundational and many cities around the world are already leveraging them to better manage public services and improve livability.

Immersive applications include the hosting of cultural and sports events, virtual city halls to allow residents have lifelike interactions with city officials and departments, virtual commercial districts, and more.

These use cases may be just the beginning of a broader trend. By 2026, 25% of people will spend at least one hour a day in the metaverse for work, shopping, education, social, or entertainment, says Gartner. Around 30 per cent of the world’s organizations will have metaverse products and services, feeding an economy that Citi estimates around UDS 13 trillion.


green roofs in London

Smart buildings and green roofs

There are about 45 million smart buildings globally, but they will reach 115 million by 2026, says Juniper Research. This growth of over 150% reflects increasing demand for energy efficiency, as energy costs spike and calls for sustainability get stronger.

Smart buildings – specifically buildings that use smart technologies to monitor and control key equipment for lighting, heating, cooling, video surveillance, etc. – are designed to create a safer and more comfortable environment for occupants, while minimizing the environmental impact and the consumption of natural resources such as energy and water.

Non-residential smart buildings are projected to account for 90% of smart buildings’ global spend in 2026. According to analysts, this is due to the inferior complexity and the larger economies of scale in managing government or commercial premises. Smart technologies are increasingly implemented in schools and universities, hospitals and care houses, airports and shopping malls.

In the US, the Biden-Harris Administration has just announced the new Climate Smart Buildings Initiative, which will leverage public-private partnerships to modernize federal facilities through energy savings performance contracts and achieve up to 2.8 million metric tons of GHG reductions annually by 2030. The overall investments are also expected to support nearly 80,000 jobs.

In addition to the installation of smart sensors and related intelligent management platforms for energy efficiency purposes, smart buildings can contribute to the mitigation of urban heat islands. We know that temperatures tend to be higher in cities than in surrounding areas due to the heat absorption and retention of materials like asphalt and concrete. The replacement of tar and other dark-colored materials used in roofing for several decades is nowadays recommended, but “green roofs” filled with plants and greenery are becoming popular to fight the extreme city heat.

Architectural formats are popping out in many cities around the world – see for instance the Vertical Forest by Stefano Boeri in Milan, Italy, or the about 700 green roofs mapped in London, UK.

But not all green roofs are equally effective: their success in reducing temperatures depends on the diversity of the plants used, location and other factors. Climate scientists from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies monitored and compared different green roof sites in Chicago, US, and found that sites with larger, intensive green roofs accompanied by diverse plant species have greater cooling benefits than the extensive, monoculture ones.

Nevertheless, as global heating and urban heat islands intensify, green roofs will become all the more important, and turning existing buildings into smart buildings will also be greatly beneficial for carbon neutral and climate resilient cities.


super-ageing society calls for smart technologies

The super-ageing society calls for smart technology options

Japan is aging fast. In a country that is home to a record 80,000 centenarians, about 29% of the population is 65 or older, and by 2036 elderly people will represent a third of the population. The super-ageing society is not a Japan-only issue, of course.

Trends in Europe are not too far behind Japan. In the UK, there are now more people aged 65 and over in England and Wales than children aged under 15. Senior people have surged by 20% over the past decade. In the US, about 10,000 people daily turn 65 and the percentage of people over the age of 85 is predicted to double to 14 million by 2040, in part because Americans are living longer. In 2050, 84 million elderly people will live in America.

Who Will Care for America’s Elderly?”, titles Politico.com. Though question, particularly when the labor shortage gripping US workforce across industries is felt most acutely in healthcare: 400,000 nursing home and assisted living staff quit their jobs since January 2020 due to pandemic exhaustion, low salaries and limited career opportunities.

The debate around AgeTech – technology designed to meet the needs of older adults and those who care for them – turns up and intersects the growing focus on P4 medicine, now P5, as a predictive, personalized, preventive, participatory and precision discipline. This patient-centered care approach leverages latest digital and sensor-based technologies, artificial intelligence and robotics to support diagnosis, treatment and assistance.

Bed sensor systems are increasingly used in hospitals, clinics, nursing, and care houses: they do not replace nursing staff but can ease the burden on personnel and make some routine tasks quicker and simpler, with benefits for patients too. By integrating high-precision sensors to measure some vital parameters and referential body weight, these solutions contribute to the effective monitoring of patients' conditions, save some workload of the nursing staff and spare the recipients' inconvenience.

IoT-based platforms for remote, non-invasive patient monitoring may also be used for seniors and patients who are assisted at home. They may benefit from continued and reliable medical care without leaving their homes and enjoying some independence.

AgeTech and smart technologies are not the silver bullet for the super-ageing society, but they can make longevity somewhat more comfortable and support medical care when needed.


Trust, city of Boston pilot project

Transparency in Smart Cities to regain trust

The city of Barcelona in Spain is testing drones to improve the management of its beaches and estimate their capacity in real time. Don’t worry – as the bid for the drones clearly states – the image processing system anonymizes those caught in the picture, thereby rights and freedoms of individuals are fully safeguarded.

Privacy and data protection are more and more important for people. Surveillance technologies, as well as any other digital urban system, are increasingly subject to public scrutiny as citizens want to know who and what is being monitored, which data are being collected, how they are treated, which levels of security are provided.

Public trust is crucial for the success of any smart technology project related to public assets, infrastructures, and spaces. That’s why many cities are engaging their communities in the early design stages, well before technology is procured and installed. The more information is proactively disclosed about project goals, systems to be implemented, and data to be collected, the easier it should be to build consensus and public acceptance.

Of course, the road may not go all downhill – but at least the city should not experience what happened in San Diego, US, where in 2019 citizens learnt that the city had quietly installed surveillance cameras on 3,000 smart streetlights three years earlier. Cameras were immediately switched off, but the vocal controversy about tech governance and privacy protection has not ended yet.

A simple way to be transparent is making technology somehow visible. Sounds a little counterintuitive, but it proved to be effective. The city of Boston piloted DTPR, an open-source communication standard for digital technologies in shared spaces, and placed recognizable icons where connected sensors were active, encouraging citizens to learn more about them by scanning a QR code. The initiative was highly appreciated as part of Boston’s efforts to ensure data collection in the public realm inspires resident trust, engagement, and satisfaction.

But reassuring people about privacy and data management is not enough to gain trust. Let’s consider an additional element, that is effectiveness. Citizens and stakeholders want to know if targets are reached, which results are achieved, how smart technologies contributed to a safer, more sustainable, and livable community. The accurate measurement of key metrics is therefore pivotal: without proper reporting, cities will have trouble in managing and maintaining trust in digital technologies over time.

 

Image credit: City of Boston, DTPR signage at Tremont and Boylston streets

 


urban heat

Monitoring urban heat islands

More than 60 million people in the US are under an excessive heat warning or heat advisory, and meteorologists say hot temperatures are likely to persist across large sections of the country for the entire Summer. Heat waves are also enveloping Europe - a clear effect of climate change and global warming.

Cities are generally warmer than rural areas, and it is increasingly important for local administrations to map the hottest neighborhoods, monitor key indicators of heat-related health risks, take action and protect vulnerable citizens and communities. However, many cities lack weather station networks that can monitor heat islands comprehensively, so they look for alternative solutions to reliably collect and correlate data about atmospheric and surface urban heat.

Several systems have been used over time for this purpose, including satellite tracking. In the 1990’s, LANDSAT TM satellite data and GIS software were used to map micro urban heat islands in Dallas, Texas, suggesting heat exposure to be significantly higher in low-income, densely populated neighborhoods. More recent research projects had similar findings: the poorest areas tend to be significantly hotter than the richest in 76% of urban US counties.

An alternative monitoring and data collection system was piloted in France by a team of researchers from the University of Toulouse. Supervised by meteorology researcher Eva Marques, their approach leverages temperature sensors in connected cars to map urban heat.

After a first experiment in the city of Toulouse, the team created temperature maps in several western European cities using a database comprising millions of car sensor measurements that manufacturers had collected for insurance purposes from 2016 to 2018. The researchers found they could reliably estimate temperature variations for spaces as small as 200 by 200 meters with fine-grained data collected at 10-second intervals. Their method proved to be effective in assessing urban heat at street level – and highly beneficial even in small cities that lack weather station networks, but nonetheless need to have reliable heat monitoring.

Crowdsourcing data is a new hope to produce and share maps with these municipalities in the years to come,” said Marques. The challenge is ensuring data consistency and quality while scaling-up pilot projects. A robust architecture for data management and analysis is also crucial, and some cities are now planning to integrate urban heat islands monitoring in new or existing smart IoT infrastructures.


interoperability

Interoperability, standards do matter

Smart Cities hold a big promise, that’s of using technology to improve quality of life, mitigate climate change effects, increase public safety, and create inclusive communities. Running this technology requires a robust network infrastructure – and the more interconnected and integrated this network is, the more it will be able to generate valuable data and feed wise decision-making and, ultimately, the smarter, more sustainable and resilient the city will be.

Sounds like a logical and simple way to go, but most City manager know the implementation may have some pitfalls. Vendor-locked, proprietary technologies are a common obstacle to the progress of smart projects, since they prevent the network to integrate a number of different devices and applications, scale up and add new functionality, exchange and share data.

How to sort this out? The watchword is interoperability.

Open standards and protocols are paramount for a city to build a forward-looking infrastructure and a mesh network to host multiple applications and grow them over time. It’s also a smart way to save money (city projects using proprietary technology cost 30 per cent more than those using open technology), reduce complexity, and avoid duplicated implementation and maintenance costs. Don’t forget that proprietary solutions typically mean impossible or expensive integration with other systems, so they also involve a higher risk of obsolescence and poor return-on-investment.

At Paradox Engineering, we are outspoken endorsers of interoperability and open standards. Our technologies support 6LoWPAN (login or register to read our paper ‘Creating truly open cities’), we are active members of the uCIFI Alliance, and we have two certified TALQ-compliant products, specifically PE Smart CMS and PE Smart Gateway.

The TALQ Consortium was founded in 2012 to define a standard protocol for outdoor lighting. Now celebrating the 10th anniversary, it has evolved as a reference framework for achieving compatibility between smart city applications. The 2.4.0 version of the Smart City Protocol was published earlier this year, and the number of certifications continue to climb.

This is good news for Smart Cities and all the ecosystem: let’s work together to create open, interoperable solutions and turn technology into an opportunity for sustainable, inclusive urban growth.


climate neutral

100 European cities invest to be climate neutral by 2030

Good news from Europe. The EU Commission has just announced that 100 cities will join a program to cut emissions and become climate neutral by 2030. The selected cities are from all 27 member states and represent about 12% of European population.

The ‘Cities Mission’ is one of the five Horizon Europe research and innovation programs for the years 2021-2027. The participating cities include Marseille in France, Dortmund in Germany, Zaragoza in Spain, Parma in Italy, Lahti in Finland, Thessaloniki in Greece, Košice in Slovakia, and many more.

They will receive a total of EUR 360 million of Horizon Europe funding to support clean mobility, energy efficiency and green urban planning, with specific investment plans about energy, buildings, waste management, and urban transportation systems.

The green transition is making its way all over Europe right now, but there’s always a need for trailblazers, who set themselves even higher goals,” said Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, while announcing the 100 selected cities.

Cities will be asked to develop ‘Climate City Contracts’ to detail their plans for climate neutrality and how they will make an impact by leveraging smart technologies or improving existing services and systems. These contracts will act as highly visible commitments, and cities will be required to engage citizens, research institutes, and private companies to share know-how and potentially spur further investments.

Cities are at the forefront in addressing the climate crisis, and this program may accelerate the energy transition and the changes Europe needs to reach climate neutrality.


congestion charges reduce car use

Congestion charges reduce car use

After London’s congestion charges, the City of Oxford is now asking non-electric vehicles to pay 10 pounds to access its historic medieval center. The decision is part of a pilot program to create a zero-emission zone and make the city cleaner, healthier and less congested.

Unsurprisingly, the charge is facing some resistance. The restricted area currently covers several of the city’s main shopping streets and some Oxford University colleges, but the plan is to expand it to around 2 miles across to almost all the city center, thus impacting workers commuting in from surrounding districts and potentially reshaping the economics of the whole city.e

Oxford is being watched as a test case for the applicability of congestion charges beyond major urban centers. But are these measures really helpful in reducing car use, mitigating traffic, and improving sustainability and air quality?

A new study carried out at the Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies in Sweden and published in Case Studies on Transport Policy, examined about 800 peer-reviewed reports and real experiences in Europe, and ranked congestion charges as the most effective way to reduce car use in cities.

According to the research, the introduction of congestion charges reduced car traffic by up to 33%, while other measures proved to be less impactful. For instance, limited traffic zones cut the transit of non-resident vehicles by 20% during the restricted hours; offering discounted or free public transport passes to workers and students made car commuters drop by up to 37%.

Parking-related measures were also scrutinized. Making parking more difficult by removing parking spaces and replacing them with walkable lanes and bike tracks was found to reduce car usage by up to 19% (that was the best result achieved in Oslo, Norway). Workplace parking charges – with workers asked to pay when parking outside their offices – led to a 20-25% reduction in employee car commutes and the corresponding shift towards public transport.

The smarter management of parking facilities may not directly contribute to getting cars out of cities, but it is undoubtedly effective in improving urban mobility and mitigating traffic. Independent studies proved that about 30% of overall road congestion is due to parking search: Smart Parking solutions allow Cities to improve drivers experience by reducing idle itineraries looking for a free spot, and related fuel consumption, air pollution, time waste and stress.

 

Want to learn more about our Smart Parking solution? Watch our video and contact our experts!


local energy communities

Local energy communities for a net zero society

In 2010-2019 average annual global greenhouse gas emissions were at their highest levels in human history, but the rate of growth has slowed. “We are at a crossroads. The decisions we make now can secure a liveable future”, said climate scientists signing latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

The scenario is gloomy, but there is increasing evidence of climate action. Cities and local governments are working hard to reduce emissions by decreasing energy consumption (think of Smart Lighting and the efforts to create compact, walkable cities), implementing low-carbon mobility systems, and enhancing reforestation. With the right policies, infrastructure, and technology in place, experts estimate lifestyles and people behaviors can be changed to achieve a 40-70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 – and these lifestyle changes will have a positive impact on health and wellbeing too.

A vital role in this energy transition may be played by local energy communities, groups of neighbor users who cooperate to satisfy their energy needs through local production sources.

Good news come from the US, where the transition to clean energy is generating environmental benefits and even good-paying jobs. In 2019, renewable energy investments reached 55 billion USD and clean energy jobs paid 25% more than the national median wage.

The U.S. Department of Energy has recently presented the first 22 local energy communities to receive targeted technical assistance and access federal government programs, including those included in the $1.3 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, to plan and invest in smart buildings, clean energy production, resilient microgrids and energy storage, carbon capture and storage systems. The selected communities include Bakersfield (California), Columbia (South Carolina), Hennepin County (Minnesota), Jackson County (Illinois), New Orleans (Louisiana), Pittsburgh - Hill District (Pennsylvania), and Questa (New Mexico) among the others.

What about Europe? According to the EU’s 2021 State of the Energy Union report, about 2 million people are participating to more than 7,700 local energy communities and contributing up to 7% of nationally installed renewable capacities. However, the context in which local energy communities operate seems to be rather complicated.

According to a recently published report by the EU-funded eNeuron project, the lack of a comprehensive regulation in the energy sector is affecting local energy communities and delaying the EU’s progress in achieving its 2050 targets.

Uncertainty about regulatory provisions is a significant barrier for investors willing to develop infrastructure assets. The landscape is further complicated by the variety of technological solutions available on both consumer and energy community level. The report considers for instance heat storage, mentioning that over 50% of the energy consumed in the EU is used for generating heat. This should be a focus application, but its current adoption is fragmented and highly ineffective.

Local energy communities have a very important role to play in the energy transition, but there is still a long way to walk before the advent of a net zero society.


IoT skills

The gap in IoT skills hinders Smart Cities

Cities acknowledge the beneficial impact of smart investments to raise productivity, create jobs, improve safety, enable sustainable growth, and make public services more efficient and accessible.

This consolidated awareness will drive technology spending on smart projects in the near future: considering 2018 as baseline, budgets worldwide are forecasted to more than double by 2023 and increase from US$81 billion to US$189.5 billion.

If public investments in advanced technologies and the infrastructure underpinning them is growing, what is preventing cities from starting or accelerating their smart journeys? Shrinking financial resources and the difficult search for additional funding are usually reported by local authorities, together with regulatory hurdles that slow down large-scale projects.

Siloed, piecemeal governance is also an issue. But even when local authorities have enough resources and a far-sighted governance, the development of smart services may experience troubles: inadequate IoT skills and technology expertise stand out as one of the most relevant barriers to the development of effective solutions.

Cities and utilities are increasingly asking for help to successfully manage their IoT projects, from the design to roll-out, up to operation and maintenance management. Expert partners and professional support services are fundamental to design and engineer smart applications, assess the necessary network infrastructure and connectivity layout, configure, and set up all solution components. Once the solution is up and running, equally important skills are needed to achieve the best possible performance from installed networks and devices, smoothly manage troubleshooting and address possible hiccups.

 

Explore how a gap in IoT skills is hindering smart projects: download our report and discover what can be done to overcome this obstacle.