Hull City Council says it’s got the perfect basis for tying together its many nascent or pilot Smart City projects - a ‘Smart City operating system.
The plan: create a platform to integrate, view, manage and respond to information from a range of council services, sensors and systems, using a single intelligent dashboard. Information from current and future data-producing Council work - from Smart lighting, parking and traffic to waste management and wi-fi projects - are to be integrated into the “single pane of glass” software platform, which in a year will be open to residents and businesses.
In terms of cost to do all this, as the city has a claimed “100% fibre” to every residence and every business in Hull, a lot of the bills for are already covered, as it has an extensive low-power wide-area network technology (LoRaWAN) network as the basis. As a result, says the Council, the SmartCity OS is being seen as “relatively inexpensive for the benefits it will give”.
According to the City Council’s Deputy Leader, Councillor Daren Hale:
Developing Hull as a Smart City will give us the opportunity to work with public and private sector partners to deliver real benefits to communities, businesses and visitors to Hull.
Noting that the aim is to enhance data-sharing and decision-making, which will enable the authority deliver more effective services, including everything from traffic management to health and social care, Hale adds that this will be just the beginning of what is possible:
As the project develops, it will create a demand for new digitally-skilled workforce in the city - so we will need to invest in skills and training for younger generations so they are prepared for the new types of jobs that will be created in the digital sector.
A bold claim, perhaps - but who can blame a civic leader’s enthusiasm about the potential of new technology? In terms of what’s actually happening on the ground, Hull is partnering with a local firm called Connexin, which has built the ‘Smart City OS’ on Cisco's Kinetic for Cities platform.
Bringing together over 70 ‘out of the box’ Cisco certified integrations, Kinect for Cities is Smart City software that normalises and aggregates data from a range of IoT sensor types into a set of urban service domains such as waste, lighting and parking. Essentially, this gives Hull the ability to manage sensors from multiple vendors in one place, removing the reliance on legacy systems and their associated costs.
Putting all this in context, Assistant Director of Digital and ICT, Mike Kenworthy explains:
We've been doing elements of Smart Cities - I would say small Smart City developments. So, for example, we've got an area called Stone Ferry Road, where we're introducing smart cycle lanes that will sense whether somebody is getting too close to the traffic and light up, and if the traffic is getting too close to the cycle lane, it’ll give priority to public transport by recognising the vehicles. We’re the fourth most congested city in the country, so we link that data into our traffic management system to move the traffic around more freely and identify where there is congestion.
We're doing a piece of work on air pollution, so if you link the stuff we're getting from air pollution to traffic management, you can then see how we can move traffic to reduce air pollution in certain areas and control it. Linking it to pieces of work that we've already kind of started, we'll then be able to utilize it for much more effective results across the city.
The idea is really to get a cohesive way of handling data, whether it's from IoT (Internet of Things), traffic data, traffic camera information - and deliver all this data in all its various forms in a uniform way.
But collating all these first-generation Smart City ‘developments’ is just part of the Smart City OS idea, it turns out. The system will also pull together information that currently sits within separate Council computer systems to enable city wide management of the city’s public assets in real time, Kenworthy states:
We'll be integrating about 12 of our back office systems around street scene, traffic management and waste. Then, there'll be a publicly-facing dashboard where people, initially, will be able to see things like air quality, traffic flow and that kind of thing within kind of around a 12 month period, we’re estimating.
But there'll be things that come up during that process that obviously we'll look at and say ‘OK, actually the benefits of this are such that maybe we should accelerate it.’ But we need to get the building blocks in place first, and it's a bit of an unknown quantity on where it'll eventually end because the technology is changing so fast.
The eventual point of all that data collection, he adds, has to be that it helps the people of Hull:
If you look at the developments in things like assisted living, we’re going to be asking how can we use IoT can help us. For example, a motion sensor that detects whether a fridge door is being opened or closed, and if there's movement in the house. Now, if you think you've got somebody who is elderly and living at home and wants to stay at home, you have a great new opportunity to be able to monitor what's going on, and then be able to if, for example, say the fridge hasn't opened for 24 hours, you send someone around to check whether they're okay. It may be that they'd gone away, but you may find they're actually in some form of distress, but you've intervened early. You've known about it before it becomes a major problem. One of the biggest costs within council is adult social care or children's services, so you can see how avoiding those costs in the future and keeping people living at home, which is ultimately where they want to live, would be really beneficial.
Ultimately, we are there to deliver the best we can for our citizens and taxpayers. While most, well probably all, local authorities are under really, really tight financial pressures, we've got to find ways to continue to improve the services we deliver, and that's where technology like this comes in, as it is giving us opportunities to look at new ways of delivering services, new ways of finding out how we're best going to target our tight resources - and if we can make decisions that make sure that what we do is actually really effective, then we're doing the right thing.