self-driving vehicles

Self-driving vehicles: industrial applications rise

Self-driving vehicles have been long awaited as a crucial booster for the car industry. The technology should jump forward in 2022, but most manufacturers are still dealing with Level 3 autonomous vehicles and won’t be able to launch fully automated cars in the short term.

But technology is not the only delaying element. Driverless cars hold huge promises, as they were expected to make driving safer, more efficient, and comfortable. As a matter of fact, the many questions around safety have not been answered yet, and there is a growing call for strict regulations and clear rules to assign responsibilities in case of motoring offences.

Lately, doubts about the potential environmental impacts of automated vehicles have been raised. We expect self-driving vehicles to select the best possible itinerary to get to the desired destination and adjust speed and pace to save fuel and reduce emissions. Right, but what if users change the game?

If I ask the car to look for the cheapest (and not the nearest) parking lot, cruising time may increase. If I don’t want to pay for parking at all, I may send the car back home while I am at work and summon it after office hours. This would twice the driving – generally speaking, this may lead self-driving vehicles to cause more congestion, fuel consumption and pollution. A recent study in downtown Toronto showed this unpleasant side effect, and the debate is starting to provoke some reactions.

While driverless cars are slowed down, self-driving vehicles are experiencing better results in some other industries. Fully automated vehicles are increasingly used as load and assembly line transporters, forklifts and tuggers in warehouses and manufacturing sites. Featuring IoT technologies, cameras, motion sensors, infrared and laser radars, these vehicles can leverage complex algorithms and artificial intelligence to manage the transportation of materials and equipment with limited or no human effort.

Self-driving tractors are making their way in agriculture, contributing to a greener and more productive farming. Tractors can enable smart decisions by collecting data while they operate, which give farmers information on field and crop health and long-term yields, as well as alerts about problems such as irrigation leaks or crop discoloration.

Manufacturing, logistics, and agriculture seem to have fewer challenges than busy urban roads. Will industrial applications be the real business opportunity for self-driving vehicles?

smart urban sensors

Smart urban sensors become ubiquitous

The number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices worldwide is forecast to almost triple from 8.74 billion in 2020 to more than 25.4 billion units in 2030. IoT devices are used in all types of industry verticals and consumer markets, and Smart Cities have seen a mass proliferation in recent years.

As we know, nowadays cities leverage smart urban sensors to extensively collect data and manage their infrastructure, power and water networks, essential public services, and more. Recent ABI Research report took a position on the most relevant trends to happen in 2022 and confirmed smart urban sensors are on their way to ubiquity, as the number of use cases where IoT can offer added value is multiplying.

Emerging sensor-based solutions include automated traffic management at intersections, people density and flow tracking for Covid-19 distancing, air quality monitoring, advanced public security applications featuring mobile surveillance and gunshot detection. However, IoT deployments in smart cities are still primarily aimed at efficiency improvements and cost savings, sustainability and decarbonization.

Following the hype of COP26 event in Glasgow, sustainability and carbon neutrality will be a pressing challenge for cities. The EU’s Green Deal and pledges from cities and governments across the globe will raise the bar for cities, that naturally stand on the front line in suffering the effects of climate change and trying to mitigate them.

Key smart urban sensors applications such as smart lighting, smart waste, or smart parking will continue to drive investments in 2022, says ABI Research. Much of their momentum is due to both the increasing range of high-performance sensor technologies and the emergence of powerful edge AI compute, with the opportunity of unlocking more value from captured data and enabling predictive intelligence.

Despite the increase in popularity of circular economy models, analysts fear there will be no measurable progress in the next 12 months. The principle is yet in the very early stages of development, so it would probably require more time to pick up any relevant large-scale result.

But ABI Research points out another interesting trend: city governments are now waking up to the real possibility of smart urban sensors data monetization. What is this about? It relates to the possibility to leverage data generated by connected devices and applications to design new revenue streams for cities, much needed in the post Covid-19 era.

The background for any data monetization program is the availability of a perfectly safe and accountable urban infrastructure, where data are fully transferrable and assignable (and blockchain technology can be the answer to this).

A platform such as PE Smart Urban Network allows data generated by urban devices to be shared and tokenized, hence transformed in tradeable assets. This means data streams can be easily sold and bought through a secure digital marketplace. Parking-related data can be used for instance to design mobile apps to check free car lots in real time, reserve and pay them via smartphone; live environmental data can be leveraged to monitor the impact of traffic-mitigation measures and dynamically manage restricted traffic zones; and so on. Start ups and local businesses might design and provide applications mashing-up different data to create their own services.

Smart urban sensors are ubiquitous – and cities are learning how to leverage them not only to improve efficiency and sustainability, but also to generate revenues to fund innovation and future growth.

ethics and inclusion

The future of Smart Cities is about ethics and inclusion

Same as living bodies, cities are born, grow and in some case die out. Interviewed by the Italian magazine Corriere Innovazione, Professor Richard Florida from the School of Cities of the University of Toronto explained most urban transformation processes resemble natural lifecycles and allow cities to resist disruptive crisis such as Covid-19.

The debate around decentralized cities or the 15-minutes cities confirm the pandemic is not pushing people away from urban areas, rather inciting a different way of experiencing and living them.

«I’m thinking of people-friendly districts and community-friendly spaces. A city should be much more than a place: it should be distributed and inclusive, providing museums, cultural centers, music halls, theatres, and more. This is the way to ignite relations and activities, reconnecting people», said Professor Florida.

Over the past five years, the Smart Cities wave has abandoned the initial tech-centered approach and focused more on the needs of residents and local communities. While acknowledging smart technologies can make public services more efficient and sustainable, current and future city projects are increasingly aimed at enhancing the quality of life and pursuing citizens’ happiness.

As reported by Smart Cities Dive after surveying leaders from 15 major U.S. cities, the future is about ethical and open communities, where technology plays a role by supporting data-driven decisions for inclusion and effective stakeholders’ engagement.

The expected evolution includes protecting residents' digital rights and breaking down any racial and digital inequity. The pandemic created a sense of urgency around the need to close the digital divide, highlighting connectivity is a critical public infrastructure and access should be granted to anyone, same as power, running water, healthcare, or education.

But city leaders are very aware that digital equality and a stronger community engagement is also a matter of trust and transparency. Some people fear smart investments serve only the affluent and fail to safeguard their data and privacy, potentially resulting in even more divisiveness and inequality. Cities that make ethics and inclusion a cornerstone of their governance need to build long-term trust with their communities to ultimately realize the full potential of Smart City initiatives.

quality healthcare

Quality healthcare for the maturing population

Scientists cannot agree whether the world's population will increase or decrease over the next century. The United Nations predicts there will be 10.9 billion people on the planet by 2100 and the population will continue to grow, but a team of researchers from the University of Washington describes a different scenario.

According to their assumptions, global population is likely to peak well before the end of the century and reach 9.7 billion people in 2064. Then a decline will begin and continue inexorably, so the world will count between 6.3 and 8.8 billion individuals by 2100.

One thing puts them all together: the population is overall maturing, as the proportion of people aged 65 and over has increased significantly in the past two decades. The growing number of older citizens is specifically worrying some regions and countries, including Japan, the US, and Europe.

Eurostat, the EU’s statistical center, says there are now fewer than three adults of working age (20-64) for every over 65 European citizen. This old-age dependency is forecast to rise, considering fertility rates have fallen in most countries. By January 2050 there will be fewer than two working-age adults for each older person.

Of course, this is seriously affecting national economies and governments are urged to meet the higher costs of pensions, social services, and quality healthcare.

What about quality healthcare? It’s first of call a matter of providing adequate physical and medical support to the maturing population. Technology innovations play a big role here - think of wearable devices and AI-based systems for health monitoring and the early detection of diseases, new-generation aids to address hearing loss and sensory decline causing impairment and social isolation, or cognitive systems to maintain brain health and key functioning.

But quality healthcare is also about providing reliable assistance to senior people who live at home or in nursing and care houses, developing affordable solutions for continuous non-invasive monitoring of health conditions, and supporting caregivers and families in their tasks. Personalized, data driven care plans can improve the overall quality of life for elderly people and have the potential to reduce long term medical costs.


Interested in innovative solutions for intelligent care? Read more 


City traffic lags pre-Covid levels

About 22 months after Covid-19 spread across the world, health protection measures are still in place in many countries around the world, many people continue to work from home, and urban commercial and social life is still limited.

City mobility volumes are lagging pre-Covid levels, says 2021 Global Traffic Scorecard by INRIX, and new traffic patterns are emerging. Trains and local public transportation are considerably down, and car traffic rates dropped in most cities. There are relevant changes in trip distribution throughout the day, shifting congestion away from the AM peak into the mid-day hours.

Measuring the number of hours lost in traffic, INRIX calculated London, Paris, Brussels, Moscow, and New York are the top 5 most congested cities in the world.

Data are quite astonishing. Londoners spend about 148 hours per year in traffic, costing about £1,211 per driver – that means £5.1 billions for the entire City. If you are travelling to the UK capital, keep away from the A503 at 4pm: that’s the worst corridor in the city.

In the US, the average American driver loses 36 hours per year due to congestion – 102 hours if living in New York City, 21 in Phoenix. Traffic rates decreased significantly due to the pandemic, as nowadays drivers experience about 2.6 billion fewer hours in traffic than in 2019. This is mostly due to the decrease of downtown travels that INRIX recorded in most big cities including San Francisco, Detroit, and Washington DC.

It’s hard to predict if and how urban mobility will be back to pre-Covid habits. Traffic patterns will probably change according to local conditions more than to a global, widespread return to “normal” – and cities will look for new ways to manage road congestion and parking to provide residents and visitors an agreeable urban experience.

digital twins

Digital Twins are gaining traction among Smart Cities

We usually think of digital twins in the Industry 4.0 frame. Basically, they are digital representations of a physical objects, which are outfitted with various sensors related to relevant features or areas of functionality. Sensors allow to collect data such as energy output, temperature, operating conditions, and more. These pieces of information are applied to the digital copy to run simulations, analyze performance issues, and define possible solutions, all with the goal of generating valuable insights to improve the original physical object.

While digital twins are somehow mature in the smart manufacturing world, they are increasingly used to replicate entire buildings, cities, and even larger areas. Latvia has recently launched an initiative to develop a digital replica of the Baltic Sea to mitigate the impact of climate change. Among the most polluted marine environments in the world, the Baltic Sea urgently needs to be regenerated, so its digital twin will provide a simulated environment to model human activities and look for innovations to fight negative side effects.

Cities are mostly using digital twins to reduce their environmental footprint and direct sustainability investments. According to ABI Research, cities are expected to save $280 billion by 2030 for more efficient urban planning via digital twins.

In the US, an interesting experience is being made by the City of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Partnering with researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the city succeeded in building a virtual model by integrating data from 500 different sources, including traffic cameras, radar detectors, weather stations, and emergency services. The digital twin enabled traffic congestion experiments – for instance, researchers found that more than 90% of cars got stopped by red lights during the midday rush on Shallowford Road and they decided to recompute the timing for traffic signals. As reported by Smart Cities Dive, signaling patterns are now changed every four minutes based on traffic conditions, and this improved traffic flows up to 30%, also resulting in greater energy efficiency.

The City of Las Vegas set up a virtual replica of buildings, transportation systems, and downtown infrastructure. Leveraging IoT sensors and a 5G network, the city aims at using the digital twin to improve mobility, air quality, noise pollution, water management, and emissions from major buildings. The initiative may ultimately encompass the larger Valley area and become more sophisticated over time thanks to machine learning-based permissions model.

Digital twins are rapidly becoming vital to how cities are run. Now in Las Vegas we will have a city-scale digital twin that is driven by the physical environment, and ultimately letting us control key systems through it,” said Michael Sherwood, CIO at Las Vegas to Cities Today. “The bottom line is that digital twins are going to be the future of how cities are managed and how they’re operated.”

Recycling on-the-go

Recycling on-the-go lacks infrastructure

Recycling rates for municipal waste, packaging waste, electrical and electronic equipment are slowly increasing in most Western countries, indicating some progress towards using more waste as a resource and achieving a circular economy. However, while people are committed to separate waste at home, there is a lot to do to improve recycling on-the-go.

A survey performed in 14 European countries by the LUCID polling agency with Every Can Counts revealed that most respondents (93%) would like to see more recycling bins on the streets, in public spaces, parks, beaches, or on trails. That number inches up to 94% when people were asked about large events such as festivals or sporting events.

The lack of adequate infrastructure comes out as a chief obstacle to higher recycling on-the-go rates. 83% of respondents said they always or often put their drinks packaging in the recycling bin when at home, but that number plummets to 54% in the workplace, and only 49% do so when out and about, while 48% recycle in outdoor locations like parks and beaches.

“Most respondents are ready to do more when it comes to sorting and recycling the drink cans they consume out of home, but proper recycling and collection solutions are often too scarce,” explained Every Can Counts Europe Director, David Van Heuverswyn.

On-the-go waste is carefully monitored in the UK, where about eight billion drinks containers fail to get recycled every year and are either landfilled, incinerated, or littered. A few weeks ago, Telford and Wrekin municipalities in Shropshire joined #InTheLoop, the UK’s biggest collaborative approach to boost recycling on-the-go.

First trialed in Leeds in 2018, it was piloted in Swansea and Edinburgh in 2019. Across the three projects, over 1 million plastic and glass bottles and cans were collected and recycled. In Telford and Wrekin, 25 new waste bins will be positioned strategically across the town park to encourage visitors to recycle on-the-go, providing specific guidance for correct separation.

Telford and Wrekin Council will be monitoring the impact and effectiveness of the new bins. If successful, the plan is to extend the rollout across the borough, starting with Oakengates and Newport with others to follow, making it easier for residents to recycle on-the-go in other district parks and high streets.

Does your city have recycling bins on the streets and in public spaces? Any experience or best practice of recycling on-the-go that you want to share? Contact our Smart Waste experts for further insights and ideas!

World Cities Day

World Cities Day 2021: time to act for climate resiliency

October 31st is not only about Halloween, pumpkins, witches, and ghosts. It’s World Cities Day, the United Nations’ initiative to promote the international community's interest in global urbanization and push forward cooperation to address the emerging challenges of sustainable urban development. This ties in with Sustainable Development Goal 11 (“make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”) and this year celebrations match the opening of the 26th UN Climate Change conference, also known as COP26, in Glasgow.

The theme for World Cities Day 2021 is Adapting Cities for Climate Resilience, reflecting the fact that climate change is highly impacting urban settlements, with hundreds of millions of people experiencing floods, rising sea levels, storms and increasing periods of extreme temperatures. Many cities are investing to improve their resiliency, but the lack of funding, capacity, and sometimes vision are threatening efforts to achieve notable results.

“The least well off in cities and communities will bear the brunt of climate change in the form of floods, droughts, landslides, extreme heat, storms and hurricanes. There are more than one billion people living in informal settlements with 70% of them highly vulnerable to climate change,” said UN-Habitat Executive Director Maimunah Mohd Sharif while presenting World Cities Day 2021. “We urgently need investment in climate resilience and innovative solutions”.

Adapting cities for climate resilience is paramount to mitigate risks posed by both predictable and unpredictable shocks and stresses. Among the strategies for climate-smart cities, UN-Habitat recommends to invest in climate-proof, more sustainable infrastructure, safeguarding access to basic urban services. As the world is urbanizing at a rapid pace and the frequency and intensity of natural disasters is projected to increase further in the coming decades, today’s infrastructure investment and development will determine how cities and people will be able to cope with future challenges.

This means a collective effort to reshape urban models (think of the “15-minute city” planning concept), design and implement resilient infrastructures, leverage smart technologies to increase efficiency, save key natural resources, reduce CO2 emissions, and grant access to urban services both in standard and crisis times.

The Internet of Things is the way to go to build climate-smart urban infrastructures and enable a data-driven management of urban services: want to learn more about this? Download our free white paperThe open road: A Smart City is an interoperable City‘ and ask Paradox Engineering’s experts how to start a smart journey in your city!

emergency response

Drones deliver defibrillators to patients ahead of ambulances

Every minute counts when dealing with a sudden cardiac arrest. In domestic or out-of-hospital cases, early treatment and a shock from an automated external defibrillator (AED) can improve the chances of survival to 50-70 percent. How can technology support quicker and more effective emergency response?

That was the question a team of researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden wanted to answer through a unique pilot project, using drones to deliver defibrillators to real-life alerts of suspected cardiac arrest.

Researchers partnered with the national emergency operator SOS Alarm, Region Västra Götaland and drone operator Everdrone AB to carry out a four-month study in the cities of Gothenburg and Kungälv in western Sweden. In Summer 2020, the drones took off in response to 12 out of 53 alerts of suspected cardiac arrest in parallel with ambulances. AEDs were successfully delivered by drones in 11 cases (92 percent), and in 7 cases (64 percent) they arrived before the ambulance. The drones traveled a median distance of 3.1 kilometers without causing any disturbances or damage to the surrounding area.

Published by the European Heart Journal, this study confirm drones can be leveraged to transport defibrillators in a safe way and with target precision during real-life emergencies. Researchers noted some enhancements are needed to increase dispatch rate and time benefits. For instance, they are starting a follow-up study to test drones flying at night or with bad weather, and improving the software system for better itinerary management.

Recent guidelines from the European Resuscitation Council include drone-based systems among possible measures to improve emergency response in suspected cardiac arrest cases. Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are increasingly leveraged in healthcare to deliver blood, vaccines, and other medical supplies to rural areas or remote locations, provide relief to victims who need immediate medical attention, facilitate medicine transportation within hospitals or clinics, and even support the home treatment of elderly patients.

Some technical and regulatory challenges need to be managed, but we might be not so far from the day when a drone will dispatch medicines or collect lab tests right to our home.


Photo credit: Karolinska Institutet

climate change

There is no Planet B, let’s address climate change

Among the top news of this week there are Professors Syukuro Manabe, Klaus Hasselmann, and Giorgio Parisi winning the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work about the Earth's changing climate. Manabe and Hasselmann laid the foundation of our knowledge of climate and how humanity influences it, reliably predicting global warming. Parisi is rewarded for his revolutionary contributions to the theory of disordered materials and random processes, discovering the "hidden rules" behind climate changes.

Keeping climate up in the agenda is more necessary than ever. We are all confronted with extreme weather and related natural disasters, but this might just be the tip of the iceberg. In a recent Radio Davos podcast by World Economic Forum, scenario planner and futurist Peter Schwartz described the three most plausible scenarios we might face in the near future.

The worst-case scenario deals with the acceleration of climate changes and our inability to mitigate them. We would see rising average temperatures, more frequent and serious extreme weather, an irreversible impact on ecosystems and biodiversity. This is actually a catastrophic scenario.

If managing to mitigate global warming, the second scenario would open a window of hope. We would reduce CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions of human industry and society, have a little less climb in average temperatures, slow side effects down. This is an adaptability scenario, where we would still have significant climate change in effect, but we would

Is a best-case scenario possible? Yes. According to Schwartz, we might succeed in going negative on greenhouse gases and radically cut the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, while committing to the reforestation of the planet and sustainable development programs. In the long term, we would have the Earth back on a much more climate-friendly trajectory.

Walking the talk for this third scenario requires drastic, permanent measures at all levels, from governments to private companies, up to every single Earth inhabitant. It’s about energy production and the stop of fossil fuels, the conservation of natural resources, the smarter management of waste, the implementation of circular economy models, and more.

Cities have a huge role too, since they cover 3% of the Earth's surface, but consume 78% of the world's energy and produce more than 60% of GHG emissions. “We're going to move toward much more walk-friendly cities […] We're redesigning how we live to be much, much more environmentally benign,” said Peter Schwartz.

Advocating smart technologies for sustainable, climate-resilient Cities, Paradox Engineering signed the open letter to COP26 leaders promoted by Smart Cities World: Cities must be involved in any climate agreement!


Pledge your support and spotlight the critical role cities will play in delivering a sustainable future: sign the open letter today and make your voice heard!