Dec 29 2015

Smart Cities Will Be Necessary For Our Survival

About 65km southwest of Seoul in South Korea, another city has taken a very different approach to getting on the digital grid. It's being built from scratch on 600 hectares of reclaimed land, with sensors, high-speed fibre optics and high-tech public urban systems designed in.

"The word 'smart' is used a lot for cities already, but that's limited to technical data -- sensor inputs, control systems, apps" Gerhard Schmitt, Professor of information architecture, ETH Zurich. "From an infrastructure perspective, we could lay the very latest connectivity technology into the ground before construction," says Tom Murcott of real estate developer Gale International, which is building the Songdo International Business District. Partnering with Cisco, Gale has spun out a separate company called u-Life Solutions that will provide the internet-of-things backbone for Songdo's buildings.

"This will allow the occupants to control their air conditioning, their televisions, even their elevators," Murcott says. "Cisco also built an HD telepresence system that we have installed in 14,000 residential units, which citizens can use to interact with city administrators, shopkeepers or healthcare workers."

To run services such as waste disposal, engineers designed a system that uses pipes to suck rubbish from homes into processing centres that sort the material and recycle it. "In 2016, there will mass implementation of all these services, and new ones being prototyped by SparkLabs, a Korean hardware incubator whom we are working with," Murcott says. "Songdo has this 'living lab' aspect -- there's a pioneering spirit in the people who move here."

It's not only developed economies that are reinventing urban living. Large, growing cities in developing countries are also adapting.