How intelligent tech is solving the challenges of urbanisation

Ram Ramachander, Chief Digital Officer & Chief Commercial Officer at Hitachi Europe’s Social Innovation Business, explains to Information Age some of the key challenges of urbanisation and how energy systems, transport infrastructure and healthcare services are benefitting from smart tech.

The global population is growing at an unprecedented rate and is predicted to reach 9.8 billion by 2050, up from 7.6 billion today. At the same time, increasing urbanisation means that 70% of the world’s population will be urban-dwellers by 2020. Yet many cities are not currently equipped to deal with the demands a larger population will exert on infrastructure and services.

Fortunately, the expansion of our cities is being matched by increasing investment in and widespread deployment of smart technology. In today’s digital era, smart technology enabled by the Internet of Things (IoT) is able to address a number of challenges facing our cities. Three aspects of city living that are particularly benefitting from smart tech are energy systems, transport infrastructure and healthcare services.

Balancing the scales with smart energy

Integrating smart technology into existing energy infrastructure will help meet rising urban demand for energy whilst making energy generation cleaner. IoT enabled technology, such as smart grids, can now monitor real-time energy demand and autonomously adjust the energy supply as needed. Making the energy system smart will increase efficiency and save huge amounts of energy from being wasted.

>See also: How technology is revolutionising the energy sector

These smart energy networks will not just be confined to cities. As part of the Smart Energy Islands project, Hitachi has partnered with the EU and the main stakeholders on the Isles of Scilly – including the Council, local businesses, the Duchy of Cornwall and Tresco Island – to create a smart energy system using the IoT. The programme is investigating whether renewable technology, such as solar panels and batteries, can be used more efficiently by connecting to smart energy systems via an IoT platform. Hitachi is involved in the development and management of the supply, storage and demand of electricity in this partnership and its work aims to help reduce the price of energy on the Isles of Scilly by 40%. This Smart Islands Partnership has begun testing its research on a smaller energy capacity, in the hope that it can be scaled up and impact larger areas, such as cities.

From A to B with IoT

The IoT era is set to revolutionise how we travel around a city. “Vehicle to everything” technology will virtually connect cars to each other and to different elements of city infrastructure, which will have a major impact on reducing congestion in busy cities. A connected car will be able to automatically route around traffic based on information coming from other cars and the city infrastructure. Cars will also avoid collisions as, enabled by smart sensors, they interact with the surrounding environment. Beyond cars, apps such as CityMapper are already providing users with real-time updates on the arrival of public transport, reducing waiting times and making travel more convenient. A wider shift is also occurring towards shared transport to reduce the number of vehicles operating in urban areas, to help to tackle the issues of congestion and pollution. Earlier this year CityMapper launched a hybrid bus and tax service called Smart Ride. Under a private hire licence from Transport for London, this service can carry up to eight people and can be re-routed based on shifting passenger demand, rather than sticking to pre-determined routes regardless of the real-time demand.

>See also: Five IT capabilities to transport smart cities in 2018

Enabling vehicles to respond to live information and re-route if necessary will help to reduce congestion in cities. Whilst this will enable a more pleasant and streamlined experience for travelling within cities, it will also go some way towards addressing the 9 million deaths from air pollution worldwide. Reducing congestion has a positive impact on air quality, as it reduces the amount of pollution emitted by large numbers of cars as they sit in traffic. This technology, along with the growing availability of electric vehicles (in the form of ride-sharing and personal vehicles) is being embraced by international governments as a solution to streamline travel around cities and improve the quality of air for its residents.

Harnessing big data in healthcare

As the average age of the population increases, particularly in developed nations, healthcare services are under more strain than ever. The integration of smart technology in healthcare is set to transform how care is provided, with a significant shift from treatment to prevention. By applying machine learning and artificial intelligence to patient databases, it is now possible to make sense of trends and determine patterns which are linked to specific illnesses. Hitachi’s Smart Digital Diabetes Prevention solution, for example, identifies people who are susceptible to Type 2 diabetes and gives them personalised lifestyle goals, such as weight loss programmes, as a preventive course of action. Using smart technology to predict and pre-emptively treat patients will enable healthcare services to save both time and money.

>See also: The future of tech in healthcare: wearables?

The IoT across a range of services and networks is and will continue to, improve the quality of life for people living in cities. With the urbanisation of global populations set to increase, it is important that leaders invest in the development of this technology. At the same time, it needs to be about more than reacting to increasing demand and demonstrate a real willingness from governments, businesses and society to make our existence on this planet more sustainable.

Sourced by Ram Ramachander, Chief Digital Officer & Chief Commercial Officer, Social Innovation Business at Hitachi Europe Ltd

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Andrew Ross

As a reporter with Information Age, Andrew Ross writes articles for technology leaders; helping them manage business critical issues both for today and in the future