By 2030, 5 billion people — around 60% of the world’s population — will live in cities, compared with 3.6 billion today, turbocharging the world’s economic growth.
City leaders in developing nations must cope with urbanisation on an unprecedented scale, while those in developed ones wrestle with aging infrastructures and populations as well as stretched budgets. All are fighting to secure or maintain the competitiveness of their cities, the livelihoods and safety of their citizens while minimising our impact on the environment.
Smart city solutions hold the key to offering citizens a better quality of life by cutting wastage, boosting productivity and reducing costs. Through intelligently-connected infrastructure,buildings, cars and people – combined with real-time data analytics and response solutions – cities can plan and deliver services more cost-effectively. These insights can also help citizens to use services more efficiently, from reducing car emissions to lowering energy bills.
Smart cities solutions span many different sectors, including transportation; public safety and security; energy (smart grid and smart metering) and water and waste management. NEC is contributing to many smart city initiatives across Europe – and on a global basis – with its M2M (Machine to Machine) sensors, big data analytics engine and data visualisation solutions for city operation centres.
For example, NEC has been developing smart traffic solutions from a research idea into mass-market-ready components for over a decade through the Car2Car Communication Consortium and many national and European projects. This will enable cars to alert drivers about vehicles ahead of them at blind intersections, emergency braking situations or an approaching traffic jam. Cities will be able to schedule traffic lights according to demand, informing drivers about the optimal safe speed to get through a green light and the real-time availability of parking spaces.
At the same time, we’re working on the EU-backed Smart Santander project, providing the operation centre technologies that are used to visualise data in an easy-to-understand format from 20,000 sensors and cameras that are being used to manage traffic congestion, parking and public transport, street lighting, refuse collection services, pollution and park irrigation systems. Santander is already saving around 25% on its electricity bills by switching off street lighting when ambient light levels are high and saving 20% on its refuse service costs with just-in-time collections when the bins are reaching capacity. It expects to reduce emissions from traffic congestion by up to 30%.
Another key strand of research involves a multi-year partnership between NEC and Imperial College in the UK on water pipe leak detection. Demand for water is expected to increase by 40% by 2030 according to the European Environment Agency. Yet according to many estimates as between 20% and 40% of water is wasted due to leaks. NEC’s piezoelectric sensors – integrated into pipes, pumps and the soil – can detect minute vibrations enabling repairs to be carried out quickly. They use an improved ceramic material, developed by NEC, and a new magnification mechanisation that enables the conversion of the waveforms into electrical signals. The sensors can even detect a single drop of water landing on a sheet of glass.
Security and trust will be critical to the success of these smart city solutions and their acceptance by the citizens. It is essential to conduct ongoing R&D to bring solutions to market that ensure they operate securely and the data and information involved is protected. Innovations are needed to reduce the risk of data theft that can lead to identity fraud and financial damage and potential disruption to operation of public infrastructure by malicious and highly determined hackers who are always looking for new ways to exploit IT systems. For these reasons, NEC is heavily involved in SMARTIE (SMArter ciTIEs data management), an EU project that aims to create a secure platform that protects M2M sensors and devices and the processing and storage infrastructure, to ultimately protect the integrity and privacy of smart city data.
NEC is working on new remote attestation mechanisms as part of this project to protect low cost M2M devices without the need of a bulky and expensive TPM (Trusted Platform Module) which carries a high communication overhead both in terms of the volume of data transmitted and number of interaction rounds. The focus is on developing inexpensive, compact hardware anchors or taking a purely software-based approach to attestation. A second focus is on the processing of encrypted data to realise smart services while protecting data integrity and privacy. The SMARTIE solutions will be tested in smart traffic, smart public transport and smart energy demonstrators in the cities Frankfurt/Oder in Germany, Novi Sad in Serbia and Murcia in Spain.
It is clear that the raft of new smart city technologies coming onto the market have huge potential to address a wide range of social, environmental and economic governmental goals. Cities can play a role in leading and facilitating collaboration between industry, academia and citizens to deliver smart city solutions. They should look for ways to attract capital and create organisational structures which have the authority and capacity to deliver innovative programmes.
Large scale trials of whole systems should be implemented with a focus on business models and deployment, rather than just the technology. Those city administrators that take these steps will reap the greatest benefits from innovative smart city technologies over a relatively short time-frame and long into the future.
Jean-Matthias Bohli, Senior Researcher at NEC Laboratories Europe
Jens-Matthias Bohli is a Senior Researcher at NEC Laboratories Europe and a specialist in cryptography, computer networks, cyber security and computational methods. He holds a PhD in Computing from Kahlsruhe University and has previously worked as a lecturer at the University of Sussex.