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The need for smarter cities


The need for smarter cities

While the coronavirus pandemic raises many questions, it also forces us to reflect on how our cities can be more human-centric and resilient in the face of unforeseeable challenges. Cedrik Neike, CEO, Siemens Smart Infrastructure, believes that it is now clearer than ever that the main characteristic of our future cities needs to be adaptability.

How can we make our cities smarter and more adaptable?
Cedrik Neike: "Today, we have a golden opportunity to reassess how technology can be applied to tackle the challenges of climate change, urbanization and population growth. The pandemic is creating a paradigm shift: we are on the cusp of a leapfrog into a new era of digitalization. While 99% of city infrastructure remains dumb today, technologically speaking, digitalization can make it more flexible and quicker to respond to crises. Digitalization allows us to create a digital, adaptable twin of a city in the virtual world. We can test and simulate a city’s resiliency to events like natural disasters and pandemics. This helps us understand how adaptable it is to such events and simulate a number of responses to activate in the future."

How can we create this digital twin of a city?
"Sensors make all-sensing infrastructure possible. The significance of sensors is growing and is only going to increase after this pandemic, with intelligent sensors contributing more to our public and private lives. This is because they allow us to monitor our surroundings like never before. The challenge is to create an ecosystem by joining all the dots."

Can you give a real-world example?
"Today, through our subsidiary Enlighted, IoT, smart sensors collect and monitor real time occupancy, light levels, temperatures and energy use. They can distinguish between people and objects and customize controls for specific purposes. There are 3.5 million sensors installed across our customers’ buildings globally, helping them make the best use of their office space and cut energy costs. In the UK, they enable an NHS outpatient facility to cut energy spend by 80% annually.
While in the past we placed sensors to protect and operate our infrastructure, now we are extending that to make our environment anticipatory, interactive and caring. We realize that using smart IoT sensors can significantly contribute to secure business continuity during a pandemic.

What would be possible future applications?
"What if a pandemic hits again? Sensors could help us continue to work in the office and meet in public by enabling social distancing. They can quantify the density in any given area at any given time, making sure people keep their distance and avoid overcrowding. This means we may not have to shut entire cities and countries in the future.
We also expect the focus on office space efficiency and utilization to increase. Today, 33% of commercial real estate space is underutilized or unused, creating an opportunity to save cost. Add to this the opportunity for a significant increase in ongoing home working, thanks to the biggest forced test in history, and the potential for reducing real estate costs becomes compelling.

But arenīt there ethical concerns around data privacy?
"Data privacy is about balancing what is feasible, legal and ethically right. If we want to create all-sensing infrastructure that helps preserve natural resources and tackle global challenges, we need to collect and analyze data. There will be hard choices to make – privacy vs safety, environmental impact and convenience. Individuals have the right to decide what matters to them. Global companies have a big responsibility to manage data ethically and show transparency about what is stored and for what purpose."

What we’ve learned from the lockdown?
"In summary, our world has changed forever: let’s create a new normal that benefits from new uses of technology and from the positives of the experiences of lockdown. We must take the time to reflect on what we want to take forward – more home working, increased virtual collaboration, fewer airmiles and corresponding carbon footprint reduction, flexible working to gain more hours with family.
Data exchange will be key to making our cities more adaptable and resilient to crises. With the right setup, the infrastructure that is most adaptable to change – be it pandemics, natural disasters or climate change - will not only survive but also help society to thrive.

(Photo: Cedrik Neike, CEO, Siemens Smart Infrastructure)


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