Driving smart city innovation with open sensor data (part 2)

Place de la Nation

This is part two of a five-part series that looks at successful strategies we at OpenDataSoft have seen our clients and others use to foster innovation and align their smart city and open data goals. The full series is available as a free PDF download.

Strategy 2: Go small before you go big

You can accomplish many smart city goals in a timely and inexpensive manner by exploring options for leveraging an existing infrastructure of low-tech, collaborative information and communication technologies like mobile phones, social media, online platforms and low-cost sensor kits, before making hefty new technology investments. If you do plan, however, to invest in new equipment and systems, it’s a good idea to use pilot projects to go small before you go big.

With plentiful examples of cost overrides, cancelled programs and disappointing results, governments are already well aware of the potential pitfalls of large-scale, long-term technology contracts. It is not surprising that pilot programs are emerging as a strategy of choice in the arena of smart and connected cities, where so much of the technology is either new or outside the familiar city IT toolbox.

Using a pilot approach is a great way to assess the feasibility, potential impact and return-on-investment of a large-scale project before a full roll out. In addition, it is a strategy that can be very useful in working through issues of special importance in the smart city context, including governance issues like privacy and data security and ownership, and strategies for animating communities of civic technologists and start-ups to accelerate innovation.

While there are a growing number of top-down, nationally-funded, citywide pilots underway in initiatives like India’s Smart Cities Mission and the United States Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge, the use of ‘micro’ pilots within city boundaries is more common, and more accessible, for many cities.

European Commission

An example of this type of micro pilot is the Smart Cities and Communities Lighthouse program in Europe. The goal of that program is to use pilot projects in specific urban communities to discover innovative and effective uses of technology that can be applied to common citywide challenges, and replicated by other cities across Europe.

For example, in the UK, London’s Royal Borough of Greenwich will serve as the pilot community to initiatives that include:

  • A trial of 300 smart parking spaces.
  • Tests of shared electric bikes and electric automobiles and delivery vehicles.
  • A test use of the River Thames as an affordable and renewable source of home heating.
  • Installation of solar panels on homes to provide green energy and improve energy efficiency.

In addition to Greenwich, communities in Milan, Lisbon, Warsaw, Bordeaux and Burgas will also be participating in the Smart Cities and Communities Lighthouse pilot program. An important condition for project eligibility for all communities is a commitment to providing open access to the data the projects generate in order to foster innovation, improve replicability and maximize economies of scale through a transparent transfer of knowledge.

50 captors to pilot a smart city square in Paris

This commitment to openness is also at the heart of a pilot project in the city of Paris which is being developed in partnership with Cisco Systems. That pilot is designed to test the use of technology to help create a smart city square. In Paris as in many other cities, large urban squares are hubs of economic and social life, and therefore a natural test bed for creating smarter cities.

To develop the pilot smart square, Cisco will deploy 50 real-time, multi-purpose captors for one year at the city’s Place de la Nation square. The sensors can measure air quality and noise levels, and track the movement of people, bikes, motorcycles and motor vehicles via cameras (to protect privacy, the images are blurred to prevent identification, and instantly destroyed as soon as movement data is captured).

Real-time data visualizations will be shared via on-site touch screens and panels, and displayed on the city’s Paris.fr website. The raw real-time data stream will be available on the city’s open data portal, which will be used for data collection and aggregation, data visualization and open sensor data access.

The goal is to identify environmental and quality of life ameliorations that can be replicated in any square. Seven large squares in Paris, in addition to Nation, are slated for a ‘smart’ makeover. In addition, the city hopes the captors will provide valuable data for scientific research related to air and noise pollution (see http://www.datacity.paris/presentation-en).

So, as you work through the best approaches for making smart happen in your city, consider borrowing a page from Paris and London. Get together with your citizens, community stakeholders and urban services or technology partners and find a neighborhood, a square, a district, a park or other corner of your town – and get busy testing the waters to discover what works best for your city.

Check back in next week for Strategy 3 as we explore the important role of open data sharing and collaboration with residents, civic tech communities and ecosystem partners in driving smart city innovation. You can also download the complete five-part series.

About Jean-Marc Lazard

Jean-Marc Lazard is the co-founder and CEO of OpenDataSoft, a SaaS sensor-ready open data portal. He was previously the Head of Innovation and Strategic Projects at Exalead (Dassault Systèmes) for 5 years, and led innovative IT projects in the food-processing and retail industries for 9 years. Sparking off and monitoring several startup projects, he is also an expert at Cap Digital, a business cluster for digital transformation. A graduate of EDHEC Business School, Jean-Marc also has a degree in Applied Mathematics.

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