8. Connecting the world around us – smart cities

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The concept of the intelligent campus doesn’t exist in isolation and parallels can be seen with the various initiatives around “smart cities”. Not only is there interest in applying similar ideas within the communities and spaces outside of campus, but the integration of smart cities with the intelligent campus offers many interesting opportunities.

The smart city may focus on key areas such as delivering services effectively, enhancing lives and improving the environment. Drivers include increasing urbanisation and population density, financial pressures, regulatory requirements and the complexities of managing areas of high population. The latter include issues around housing, employment, crime, pollution and transport. In addition, there are increasing expectations from the public who are used to instant personalised information and 24 hour access to services through mobile devices.

The intended results would be healthier communities, more efficient use of resources and an enabling infrastructure supporting both businesses and the public. Many of these can be seen to be similar to objectives for the intelligent campus.

Smart city examples

Smart applications in towns and cities typically include energy and the environment, health, transport and the movement of people. Examples include:

  • Smart traffic sensors helping ease congestion by adjusting signals
  • Location sensors tracking emergency vehicles or public transport and reporting how close they are to you
  • Weather sensors identifying where floods will occur following severe storms and notifying residents to evacuate
  • Monitoring where people congregate at different times of the day, the impact on services and the environmental conditions
  • Switching lights or heating on and off in public buildings depending on usage to optimise energy use
  • A smart water network that detects and reports leaks as they occur

As with campus examples, the combination and integration of different data can yield particularly interesting insights and lead to innovative interventions. One example would be to combine data on population growth with historic data on traffic and trends on changes in transportation such as cycling. Used to explore new transportation routes, this data could lead to monitoring and adjusting the traffic controls in real time to achieve optimum flow.

Linking the campus

Where the links between city and campus are strongest are when a more holistic view of people and facilities is taken. Such a view understands that individuals are at the same time members of a community, residents in a neighbourhood, students/staff at a university and participants in social groups and activities across the boundaries. Sharing of data across the campus and local area can enable both efficient use of resources and better services for users.

The environment is a common interest area. Businesses, educational bodies and public agencies all have legal, financial and ethical responsibilities to use energy more efficiently. Monitoring and adjusting energy use in response to demands and conditions is similar both within and outside the campus. By joining forces, local agencies and university managers can share expertise, contribute to common goals and coordinate at the interfaces of the campus and local community.

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Transport is an obvious link between the local area and the campus, allowing students and staff to move more easily to and from and around the campus. Key transport routes into the campus may already be identified and prioritised, for example expanding cycles lanes from student accommodation areas. Public transport routes and times could be combined with information on the timetabling and actual attendance of campus activities, both within and outside the curriculum. This can enable either real time information on the next available and closest bus to take you home after lectures, or even facilitate special services. After graduation a conference or a sporting fixture for example, shuttle buses or shared taxis could be provided in response to demand by individuals expressing interest or booking through their mobile devices.

Research into smart cities

Much of the work being done around smart cities is research involving universities. Numerous universities in the UK and abroad are conducting experiments around urban design, energy and the environment, transport and health. Effectively a “mini city”, with aspects of its own infrastructure, housing and transport, the campus can act as a test bed for larger scale activities. In addition, the skills and expertise of researchers across various disciplines can be brought together to address societal challenges.

Glasgow’s ‘Future City Demonstrator’ involves the University of Strathclyde’s Institute for Future Cities. Creating the City Observatory, data is being used to develop innovative approaches in areas such as crime, economics and sustainability. Examples include open data integrated to plot a visualisation of geographical distribution of disease across Glasgow such as :

  • Hospital admissions for heart disease and strokes
  • New registration of lung cancer patients
  • Deprivation data

The Institute for Sustainability at Newcastle University is leading a Smart Grid project  looking at how sources of power can be managed more effectively. This aims to improve storage, network configurability, responsiveness to demand and resilience to failures. It does this by linking together components that gather information about the network, informing switching decisions and electricity distribution.

’Bristol Is Open’ is a joint venture between the University of Bristol and Bristol City Council. Sensors supply information about energy, air quality and traffic flows for example and these are available for developers to build and test applications. These applications range from congestion management and waste management, to new forms of e-democracy, on-street digital games and driverless cars.

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Moving it forward

Smart city and intelligent campus designers have common challenges. Data collection and processing in silos is of limited benefit and the integration of different departments and functions is one of the keys to delivering value from this concept. This cross-functional approach is known to be challenging and cuts across different systems, processes and cultures. However, the benefits are clear –  more efficient use of limited resources, streamlined processes and increased value in services provided.

Whilst the focus initially may seen to be around new technologies, in practice the real effort is in achieving human coordination and collaboration. In addition, effective management of the ethical issues is crucial to making the intelligent campus as success. Universities however are well placed to understand and implement key aspects of the intelligent campus – cutting edge innovation, cross-disciplinary working, rigorous processes, a sharing and collaborative culture and a concern for ethical standards.

Being at the forefront of innovative approaches to smart technology and applications around the digital experience can strengthen the reputation of universities. The societal impact of research is increasingly important, and this can combine with delivering direct benefits to students and other campus users.

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