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Smart Britain's urban revolution

We've already taken a general look at how technology and innovation are changing the world’s urban centres. This time we examine five key industry verticals for the promise they hold.

Cars and parking them

The situation. The driverless car has a long way to go, but within a few years the connected car will rule city roads.

What can they do? Connected cars communicate with each other and their surroundings to help drivers reroute around congestion, avoid collisions and increase safety. Qualcomm and Honda are working on short range, location-based phone apps that alert drivers when someone is about to step onto the road (and the walker that a car is approaching unseen). Siemens is exploring overhead sensors able to spot parking places as they become vacant and transmit the location to site-hunting drivers. Westminster’s ParkRight app has become an award winner in guiding drivers to empty spaces.

Coming soon. Advanced reservation where you book a parking space before you leave and are automatically directed to it.


Car banning days

Are a thing now. Paris did it on September 27. Nearly 250 European cities and towns have signed up to a similar idea for European Mobility Week. Now Johannesburg has upped the ante with a car free month in business district Sandton, Africa’s “richest square mile”.

The challenge. Smart cities use thousands of sensors to monitor everything from traffic to trouble spots. For security they are a boon, but also a critical weakness.

The good. Crime hot spots are surprisingly dynamic, but predictive policing is making significant advances in spotting them, for example by using data to quickly recognise when a previously quiet area has become a target for burglars.

The not so good. The sensors on which data gathering relies can be comparatively old and vulnerable to attack. By their nature smart city systems deliver the greatest benefit when everything is interlinked, but that means one unencrypted traffic light could ultimately give hackers access to shut down the power grid, tube lines and more.

Listen out for. Increasingly probing - and nervous - conversations around who’s responsible when a smart city crashes.

Drone delivery

Amazon’s ambition to ship by ‘multi-copter’ still needs the US Federal Aviation Authority to smile on commercial drone use. Nonetheless America’s first actual drone delivery took place in July, dropping medicine in Virginia.

Last mile logistics

The situation. The ever-growing trend to buy online will mean even more products taking that ‘last mile’ through crowded streets to customers’ doors.

What’s happening. Sophisticated sat nav apps for van drivers that take into account weight, unloading facilities, traffic and more to calculate the best route. Retailers accessing customers’ diaries and GPS info to deliver ‘on the fly’ at the best rendezvous - even as you walk to work. Or how about 3D printing of products en route, inside the delivery van itself.

Ones to watch. Jinn, Postmates and other app services that use the Uber model of freelance couriers to buy and deliver whatever a customer requests, within the hour.


The situation. The global electricity industry suffers from ageing infrastructure, historically low investment and a pincer movement of increased demand plus a required reduction in fossil fuel use.

What’s happening. Its answer is the Smart Grid that ties together smart meters and appliances with energy efficiency and renewable energy sources to automate and manage supply. However disruptive innovators who see the industry as slow to respond are already leaping into the fray. Next year Tesla will sell its Powerwall in the UK, a 10kWh home battery that stores excess solar energy. Given the UK’s rate structure it’s cheaper to keep and consume your own solar power than sell it back to the grid, says Tesla.

Look out for. Other battery businesses jumping on the bandwagon as true energy independence becomes a hot topic and an actual possibility.


The situation. The UK’s healthcare system has been collecting data for decades, but while it reveals a lot about illness, it says surprisingly little about wellness.

What’s happening. Last year The University of Leeds was approached by the Smart Cities Forum to examine how this could change (see the full report in our resources section). Among recommending public engagement on the benefits of sharing health information and advocating Smart Neighbourhoods to solve local problems, its 2015 report made one over-arching point: while the potential benefits and savings are enormous, research shows few people within ordinary communities yet understand the advantages digital technology could bring their health or wellbeing.

Expect. A lengthy education process to realise the maximum impact from Smart City advances in health and social care.

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