Every city and town has a problem it wants to solve. For Darwin, it’s improving safety for the community. For Liverpool City Council, it’s keeping the city moving as its population grows.
Catherine Caruana-McManus, Director of Sales and Strategy for Meshed – an Australian-based company specialising in Internet of Things integration – says smart cities are the key to solving a multitude of tricky municipal problems.
“Smart city is no longer just a buzzword – the fact of the matter is that every council in Australia is really interested in what they can do to reduce costs,” she says.
“Local governments have huge constraints now; the issue of not being able to ship waste to China, the operations cost of assets, communities’ changing expectation, and the sheer amount of growth in our cities – all these forces mean our infrastructure is lagging behind and we have to play catch-up.
“Smart cities give us an opportunity to leapfrog and bring in these new business models and do things in new way.”
Caruana-McManus will speak about digital futures for sustainable cities at the upcoming IPWEA Asset Management Congress
, presenting real-life case studies on how Australian and international cities are using smart and connected infrastructure to create better outcomes for their communities.
Having worked across the infrastructure, IT and telecommunications sectors for more than 25 years, Caruana-McManus has also spent much of that time lobbying governments to embrace smart cities and be at the forefront of digital disruption.
She says the time is ripe to start ramping up smart infrastructure rollouts.
“Our legacy infrastructure is so outdated that we’re at a point where we simply cannot keep doing what we’ve been doing for the last 100 years,” she says.
“By enabling data to see asset performance, that’s future proofing.”
Caruana-McManus, who previously directed IBM’s Smarter Cities ANZ program, says the Federal Government’s $50 million Smart Cities and Suburbs Program has been a “game changer”, funding 28 projects across the country.
“Virtually every council around the country is now having a discussion about smart cities and infrastructure – there’s nothing more enticing than actually putting money and funding up for councils to look at this,” she says.
“I don’t think there’s a council in the country that isn’t starting to really engage in conversation and discussion about what’s actually happening in this space, looking at where they see the benefits and the outcomes.”
She pointed to Darwin’s ‘Switching on Darwin’ project, which received $5 million from the fund.
“Darwin are wanting to provide safety and security across the city; they had a strategy and the Smart Cities and Suburbs Program helped them with giving some co-funding into the smart lighting and security project,” she says.
“Each city has a problem that it’s trying to address – there are some very tangible projects out there, and I think we’re going to see a lot more of those.”
Then there's Liverpool City Council's 'Smart Cities, Smart Liverpool, Smart Pedestrians' project, which received $120,000.
"Liverpool City Council are doing pedestrian counting and traffic congestion monitoring. What they’re trying to do is ensure that when people come to the Liverpool CBD, they get a great experience. The only way you can know what’s happening at a low cost is by using enabling technology. What they’re doing now is using digital to help them count people without taking any personal information," Caruana-McManus says.
Caruana-McManus says the most exciting convergence of physical and digital infrastructure is in operations and maintenance.
“That’s where a lot of the really interesting and innovative technologies are coming to the fore,” she says.
“We know for example that Aurizon and other rail organisations are using drones to actually monitor parts of the network to see if there’s any issues with the track-work, and also being able to take images that then can relate to repairs of infrastructure.”
“Then there’s the internet of things, which is where it isn’t just a piece of concrete or a bit of asphalt, but actually has sensors embedded into that infrastructure, collecting data about the infrastructure in real-time, so we can understand more about how the infrastructure is being used, what stress it’s under, the environmental impacts, and also looking at operational efficiencies, and that’s particularly relevant in the energy and the water space.”
The solutions will also vary depending on whether it’s a metro or regional area.
“If they’re a city council, there’s a lot of focus around things like congestion, urban heat island effect, air quality, environment and place-making. They’re also looking at the ways in which smart infrastructure can help them with operational efficiency, and that’s looking right across their asset portfolio,” Caruana-McManus explains.
“If they’re a regional council the reality is they have to do more with less, and climate change adaptation is a major focus area of a lot of councils in the regions. The whole water lifecycle piece is really important, and so they are looking at water metering, they’re also looking at new opportunities, such as solar farms and battery storage and looking at ways they can build a low-carbon and more resilient future.”
The three key principles
Caruana-McManus says there are three key principles to keep in mind when investigating smart cities and infrastructure:
- Data sharing: not just open data the use of the public to make new applications but encouraging government agencies (from within and across) together with the private sector to share data across the different infrastructure domains.
- Collaboration: across processes, systems and people and this is underpinned by the use of open source technologies. Open source is important to avoid vendor lock in.
- Standards and interoperability: a common language across the different technology solutions, for example ensuing the smart lighting controls and CCTV cameras use the same security protocol in the event of an incident.
Caruana-McManus says although there is still work to be done, governments and industry are aware of how crucial it is to create a common language for IoT applications.
“At the moment, a lot of cities are deploying CCTV cameras, and they’re also deploying smart lighting. The question I often out to public forums is are those two systems using the same security protocol? And these are the questions that need to be asked when you’re deploying a smart city solution; you need to know what sort of security protocols they’re going to be using, so you have greater control over how that network would interact with another complementary network in the case of an incident."
“We have come a long way, and there are global standards. The smart cities movement is looking into those frameworks and standards so the benefits can be realised.”