Bringing science fiction to Aberdeen’s high street

Smart Cities is a concept that has been around for some time now but is finally beginning to become a reality. The concept covers cities and towns that use information and communication technologies to increase operational efficiency, share information with the public and improve the quality of government services and citizen welfare.

But what does that mean? Think of Aberdeen as an orchestra, and instead of different instruments, you have various sensors. From traffic lights and post boxes, to sensors built into lampposts and bridges - each of them working in symphony.

Singapore is often cited as being the smartest city in the world. Although autonomous cars, seamless payments, and environmental sensors are some of the most obvious concepts this approach gains attention for, it’s when you examine the city in closer detail that the really intelligent work becomes clear.

In Singapore, anonymised data has been obtained from commuters' fare cards and identifying commuter hotspots in order to manage bus fleets. This included studying the arrival times of buses, tracking them with sensors installed in over 5,000 vehicles. Gathering this data generated numerous insights that helped the local authority to better anticipate and address the needs of commuters through improved policy planning. It resulted in a 92% reduction in the number of bus services with crowding issues, while average waiting times shortened by up to seven minutes.

It’s likely that in the future you could see smart technology become abundant in Aberdeen. In our homes, many of us have voice-activated devices, lightbulbs intelligent enough to detect if someone is still using the room, and almost all of us are tethered to our smartphone. With an increased amount of smart city technology on our streets, analysts believe it could reduce fatalities, either by accidents or through crime, by 8-10%.

However, smart devices are not just about reacting to what the data is showing, it’s about being predictive as well and putting in place measures that will have a range of benefits. For example, having more autonomous environmental systems within blocks of flats to regulate energy consumption and utilise dynamic electricity pricing could result in the reduction of emissions 10-15%.

For all of this to work, data has to be shared effectively. If we are suddenly going to be increasing the amount of data cities are producing and capturing, we need to make sure the infrastructure is in place to handle it. This is where future proof full fibre networks come into play. These networks – like the one CityFibre is building across Aberdeen – are capable of dealing with vast amounts of data. At the moment, just 11% of the UK has access to full fibre. Instead, the country is reliant on legacy networks built on copper dating back decades.

It is here where the UK is falling behind as the rest of continental Europe, which is way ahead in establishing full fibre networks. But this is changing and most within the telecoms industry are working toward rolling out a full fibre network to the UK by 2025. When that happens, Britain will go from digital laggard to leader and Aberdeen will be able to further embrace smart city technology because it will have a network capable of handling the amount of data it needs to work.

Allan McEwan

Allan McEwan