Attributed to: Karthik Venkatasubramanian, Senior Director – Data Strategy and Operations at Oracle Construction and Engineering
According to a report by Orbis Research, the global smart cities market was valued at USD 529.55 billion in 2017, and is forecasted to reach USD 1944.67 billion by the end of 2023, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 24.21%, during the forecast period (2018 – 2023).1
Interest in smarter cities is growing in Australia, and it’s easy to understand why. Innovative technological solutions used in the digitisation of metropolitan centres hold great potential when it comes to solving daily challenges – such as traffic gridlocks, strained utilities, and lack of security – that left unchecked will erode the quality of life of urban residents. And it’s not just the major cities that benefit; Australia’s suburbs and rural regions will also gain much from becoming digitally smarter. Namely, smart city solutions can aid the management of critical resources – such as water and electricity systems – and address issues of environmental sustainability, both of which are common challenges in the Australian outback.2
Buoyed by the potential of smarter cities, the Australian government has invested more than $50 million into the nationwide Smart Cities and Suburbs Program, which encourages urban and suburban governments to pitch solutions that incorporate elements of digitisation.3 This has resulted in initiatives that leverage technologies such as cloud and IoT, such as Melbourne’s real-time waste management programme4, Newcastle’s integrated traffic monitoring and operations5, and the suburb of Paramatta’s6 ongoing efforts to ‘start smart’ by incorporating interconnected sensors and networks into new construction projects.
Whether ‘digital by design’ or ‘digital by choice’, the unprecedented volume of data being generated is propelling a new age of digital revolution. The IoT-fuelled explosion of new technologies such as sensors, drones, meters combined with “smartification” of everyday products like the electric bulb, fridges and televisions is changing everyday life. And on a larger scale, Australian cities and suburbs are increasingly undertaking some form of initiative to “smartify” public services such as transportation, the management of their critical utilities, or the health, safety and productivity of its residents.
Echoing this growth in technology use, Oracle Construction and Engineering has established an Innovation Lab in the United States to help organisations explore the latest solutions to accelerate digital transformation. The lab is designed as a simulated project worksite with integrated technologies, enabling visitors to interact with various leading-edge solutions, including connected devices, autonomous vehicles, drones, augmented reality, data visualisation, and artificial intelligence tools. This “smart worksite” aims to bring to life the performance improvements and data insights these technologies can deliver at scale.
Smartification of everyday life
Data can now provide insights into how people live in their homes, through energy use, food consumption (think smart fridges, etc.), waste management, health, fitness and entertainment; how they move, i.e., through travel by cycle, car, train, plane, boat or foot; as well as how they work.
Connected buildings, cars, homes and people are sending signals constantly – what’s happening at any time, where they are located, what is going wrong, what might go wrong and when they need proactive intervention. This is vital for fast-growing Australian cities such as Newcastle, where urban hubs become denser by the day. Maintaining a sensory map for traffic flow doesn’t just help improve the efficiency of transportation networks and emergency services – it also opens avenues to other smart city solutions, such as autonomous vehicles, bike-sharing and on-demand buses.7 By coupling these with the data from other sensor-linked devices such as urban WiFi networks, street lights, and environment sensor networks, local governments and partnerships can tap into predictive technologies like AI, machine learning, and deep learning – allowing even potential weaknesses or opportunities to be detected and rectified with greater velocity.
Why is all this important? Because, when data starts to change our patterns of behaviours – what we do, where we go and how we do things – the underlying assumption is that we become happier, healthier, safer. That’s certainly the plan anyway. In reality, whilst it solves some problems it creates new ones – including questions around data security.
The data approach
In our experience, more and more project owners and contractors are using data to make informed decisions throughout the different phases of a project. But when the project is complete, there are two assets that are now handed over – the physical and the digital. These ‘digital twins’ not only need to be maintained but the data that these smart, connected buildings generate need to be collected, secured, analysed and used.
Residents should be encouraged to share data when they get something in return – lower power bills, reduced insurance premiums, congestion free commutes, safer cities, faster emergency services and the like. In Adelaide, households on AGL’s grid can now share excess energy generated by their solar panels with other residents, with the peer-to-peer network relying on a mix of mobile apps and blockchain technology to serve the community.8 But the key toward properly capturing this data, regardless of the technology used, is a central, cloud-based portfolio management platform that can quickly and securely capture, store, and allow a deeper analysis of data.
It’s difficult to categorically state that smart cities are leading to happier, healthier and safer citizens. Ironically, we’ll need much more data before we can assess that. What we do know is that generating more data and mining it for insights will enable us to make better decisions, both reactive and predictive. And this can only be a good thing for enriching people’s lives.