Cities get smart


Hi-tech innovations are rapidly being adopted in cities around the world to make life more convenient for their residents and visitors.


Your mobile phone guides you to get off the driverless bus at the next stop and then wait two minutes for a pre-paid shared taxi ride to your destination. As you wait, you throw a wrapper into a rubbish bin, which automatically sends a signal to the city’s waste collection service to let them know it is nearly full. Such marvels are already becoming possible in “smart cities” around the world. 

“Smart cities use digital technology and ¬intelligent design to create sustainable urban environments where residents can enjoy high-quality living,” explains Milo Vergucht, Executive Director of the Smart Cities Council Europe. “Cities like Amsterdam are leading the way using smart technologies to improve the lives of citizens and visitors, create clean and healthy living conditions, and build up digital infrastructure to make services instantly available.”

Amsterdam’s flagship smart city project is ArenA. Home to the famous football club Ajax, this state-of-the-art sports and concert venue features many innovations that improve the fan experience, from smart lighting, security, and catering to the largest open-access wireless local network in the Netherlands. 

“Sensors and devices interconnected through the Internet of Things are also key to the use of digital data in smart cities,” adds Vergucht, citing Barcelona as an example of a smart city where a unique network of sensors and fiber optic data cables helps the city authorities to optimize services from traffic and waste management to street-lighting and the watering of green areas.

Smart urban development in Asia

More than half of the world’s people live in urban areas, and this share may rise to two-thirds by 2050, largely due to the growth of cities in Asia and Africa. We often associate big cities with noise, pollution, and traffic jams, but street-wise urban planners can make city life clean and easy. 

In 2014 Singapore launched a unique Smart Nation program through which a vast network of sensors and cameras has been set up around this densely populated island city state to monitor flows of people and traffic. The city’s interconnected public transport system is already smartly reactive, and in 2016 the world’s first driverless taxis started roaming Singapore’s streets.  

Some fear that surveillance technologies could allow governments to keep too close an eye on their citizens; but clearly benevolent applications include smart movement sensors in the homes of elderly Singaporeans, which can alert relatives or carers to possible problems.    

Building a 25/7 city  

A smart city district is rapidly sprouting on Helsinki’s waterfront at Kalasatama. This high-density brownfield development in a former harbor site with good transport connections is being used to test various smart innovations. “Since time is perhaps the most precious resource for people, our vision is that in addition to saving on resources like energy, we can save residents an hour a day, by making it easier for them to get around, and providing them with services at home or within easy reach,” explains Veera Mustonen, Smart Kalasatama’s Program Director.

By the 2030s Kalasatama should have 25,000 residents and 10,000 workplaces. Its first 3,000 residents are already benefitting from innovations like shared electric cars, the ability to control their domestic appliances remotely, and a pneumatic waste collection system that sucks bags of sorted household waste through pipelines to a central waste station. 

“We see the participation of citizens as extremely important in shaping a smart city,” says Mustonen. Residents are already keenly using Kalasatama’s Flexi-space service, which works like Airbnb, ¬enabling everyone to reserve local facilities ranging from clubrooms or saunas to meeting rooms and sports halls.” Other citizen-driven innovations include urban gardens and the Kotisatama co-housing scheme for seniors, where a user-friendly online system helps residents to share facilities and enjoy meals and activities together. 

“We’re currently testing how Kalasatama residents could feed surplus electricity from their own solar panels into the local grid, which has innovative ¬battery storage and electric car charging systems,” adds Mustonen. Next year a free driverless electric “robobus” service will shuttle between Kalasatama metro station and Helsinki Zoo. 

Helsinki as a testbed  

“It’s important to remember that cities can’t be smart unless they’re also clean and help citizens to combat climate change,” says Tiina Kähö, Executive Director of the Helsinki Metropolitan Smart & Clean Foundation. “Metropolitan Helsinki is an excellent testbed for a wide variety of smart and clean solutions including real-time online air quality monitoring, robobuses, and a smart local electricity grid combined with smart metering to optimize energy use.” 

According to Kähö, the key technologies already exist, so it’s just a question of finding ways to ¬realize them. The Smart & Clean Foundation brings cities, citizens, companies, and experts together to create sustainable new businesses and change the way cities and citizens behave. “The goal is not the technology itself, but how it saves on resources in practice and makes life easier for residents,” she adds. 

Cities like Helsinki are already speeding up things by providing open data platforms with vital real-time data that can be selectively tailored by handy apps. When it comes to getting from A to B, ground-breaking mobility service apps including Whim and Tuup are already enabling citizens to use their smartphones to conveniently plan and pay for interconnected journeys across the city combining all imaginable forms of transport from trains to cheaply rentable city bikes.  

Text by Fran Weaver
Illustration by Mikko Saarainen

This article was originally published in Finnair's Blue Wings magazine (May-June 2017).



Published April 25, 2017

Category: Market updates, Finnair Cargo