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.


6LoWPAN

Infrastructure investments to accelerate Smart Cities

Many countries around the world are struggling to make their cities smarter by leveraging data, advanced technologies, and more efficient resource management systems. Smart journeys vary a lot, as different approaches are being experimented.

For instance, in Japan many smart communities are built from scratch: think of ‘sustainable smart towns’ by Panasonic in Fujisawa and Suita, or Woven City by Toyota in Susono by Mt. Fuji.

But creating smart neighborhoods from scratch is not always possible. In most cases, heading for smartness means evolving existing districts, one by one, one application at a time, starting from the existing physical and digital infrastructure.

That’s the idea behind the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) in the United States. As President Biden explained, this act “will rebuild America’s roads, bridges and rails, expand access to clean drinking water, ensure every American has access to high-speed internet, tackle the climate crisis, advance environmental justice, and invest in communities that have too often been left behind”. The final IIJA version welcomes approximately $1.2 trillion in spending, with huge funding opportunities for cities willing to modernize public services and create future-proof smart platforms for sustainable and inclusive urban growth.

How will the IIJA contribute to the development of Smart Cities in the US? This will be widely discussed at Smart City Expo USA, the leading event for cities taking place in Miami (Florida) on September 14 and 15, 2022.

Let’s meet and share thoughts at booth #204: our Smart City experts will explain how PE Smart Urban Network enables the digital transformation of key public services such as street lighting, mobility and parking management, solid waste collection, environmental monitoring, and more.

See you in Miami!

Smart City Expo USA


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.


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.


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.


interoperability smart lighting

Smart Lighting: cities should tender for interoperability

Public lighting management changed a lot since the introduction of smart IoT technologies. Remote monitoring and control are now possible, with immediate benefits in terms of power and energy bill saving, GHG emission reduction, improved maintenance and quality of service.

But how can we ensure connected streetlights benefit the city, its people and the common good? LUCI Association picked on the question in a recent paper, discussing key elements of the technical and operational framework of Smart Lighting, and the social and societal side.

Interoperability stands out as a focus topic. Cities are increasingly worried about vendor lock-in, as proprietary technologies and single-application networks suffer impossible or expensive integration with other systems, run a higher risk of obsolescence and ultimately provide a poor return-on-investment.

As LUCI Association’s paper clearly explains, the concept of interoperability in Smart Lighting comes into play in three levels. The network level is about the carrier of the communication among connected devices; the software level is about the shared language these devices need to interact. The hardware level relates to the physical devices to be interfaced, considering for instance LED luminaires, smart controllers, and environmental sensors.

As a technology provider who has always been agnostic to the application, at Paradox Engineering we focus on the development of smart IoT networks supporting a number of field devices and third-party systems, independently of the make. In a word, we head for interoperability.

Our technologies are standard-based and feature open data models: 6LoWPAN, TALQ, uCIFI Alliance, but also DALI, Nema, Zhaga are some of the industry standards you will hear the most from us.

Interoperability grants cities the flexibility to address the most pressing challenges and strategically plan for future, innovative applications. Less costs today, and no barriers when it comes to adding new devices and applications over time.

Are you ready to tender for interoperability? Contact our experts for a non-binding consultancy about smart interoperable networks for Open Cities!


road safety

Road safety in cities: smart technologies help

2020 was the deadliest year in the US for traffic crashes in over a decade, with a 7% increase in fatalities over the previous year. The unfortunate trend continued in 2021, with about 20 thousand victims in the first half of the year.

Last week, the US Department of Transportation announced a new comprehensive National Roadway Safety Strategy, a roadmap for addressing what has become a true national crisis. Adopting a “Safe System Approach”, the strategy acknowledges human mistakes in crashes, but urges the design of redundant systems and the implementation of smart technologies to make roads safer for everyone.

Generally speaking, there is a pressing need for new systems to prevent traffic accidents. Vehicles are increasingly equipped with sensors, advanced driver-assistance systems, and automatic emergency braking that improve navigation and safety. Infrastructure is also becoming more intelligent to enable traffic monitoring and control, thus contributing to accident prevention and quicker intervention when needed.

But cities are highly complex system, and there are many and competing demands placed on their transport systems. There is no single silver bullet measure, and the mix of interventions that works in one city may not be enough in another community.

According to the International Transport Forum – coordinating the ‘Safer City Streets’ initiative at the OECD since 2016 –, smart technology plays an increasingly important role in road safety and feed both accurate monitoring (think of video surveillance at critical junctions or along busy itineraries) and data-driven decisions related to traffic engineering and speed management.

The timing and configuration of traffic lights are also very important. A simple but effective example is the optimization of pedestrian intervals: real-life experiments proved that indicating “walk” to pedestrians several seconds before turning traffic gets a green light improves pedestrian safety a lot, making them more visible and decreasing the risk of being hit by a car.

Vehicles are becoming increasingly connected by devices that interact with each other and the road infrastructure. Data flows resulting from Vehicle to Everything (V2X) technologies and their interaction with the so called Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems can feed emergency braking warning, distance sensing, improper-driving detection, collision-avoidance systems, weather-related skid warnings, and optimized intersection management.

But road safety is not only about private motor vehicles and pedestrians. As micro mobility and cycle riding are on the up, cities are increasingly looking at road safety from a wider perspective. Space is being reallocated, effective parking management and curb management are needed to ensure a safe access to different urban transportation systems. Smart technologies are definitely part of the improvements being made to road infrastructure.