Diffrent Theories on Smart Cities

A domain where the research is particularly active during this past few years is at the crossing between technology and society. The current world situation calls for a progressive but radical change. This evolution has been smoothen by the policies of the European Union, but today we see a quick acceleration of tis trend because of economical and environmental concerns. The future of our towns is dependent to the way we will manage to work out the economical, social and environmental developments in synergy.

Within this context, it seems interesting to state the ambitions of the EU for the coming decade. The strategy titled “Europe 2020” aims to revive the economy and is the development of a smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. These priorities, which are mutually reinforcing, must allow to the Union and its Member States to ensure high levels of employment, productivity and social cohesion. This will be made possible by relying on greater coordination between national and european policies. In other words, each Member State will be required to follow the European directives and support the common objectives through an harmonisation of local legislation.

The main axes are the following:

1. Smart growth,developing an economy based on knowledge and innovation. Between now and 2020, an estimated 16 million more jobs will need a high level of qualification, while the low skilled asset demand is expected to fall to 12 million. The improvement of the initial training is paramount – as well as the means to acquire and develop new skills during a career.

2. Sustainable growth, which promotes a better efficiency energetics as well as a greener and more competitive economy.

3. Inclusive growth, which supports high employment rate and a strong social and territorial cohesion.

The targets for 2020 are:

– Three quarters (75% ) of the population 20 to 64 years should be employed, (the average of the EU 27 is now 69 %).
– Reduce the poverty rate of 25%, which means 20 million people out of poverty.
– Reduce to less than 10% the population between 18 to 24 years leaving school without a diploma, and raise to at least 40% the percentage of the population between 30-34 year with an higher degree.
– 3% of European GDP invested in Research and Development, combining private and public sectors, which is a point higher than the current rate (compared to 2.6% of GDP invested in R & D in the USA and 3.4% in Japan )
– objective “20/20/20” climate change , a 20% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, compared to 1990 levels, raising 20% the energy efficiency and reach 20% of energy production through renewable sources. This should allow the creation of 1 million jobs in Europe.

These objectives are linked and, at least theoretically, they are reinforcing each other. Progress in education matters will improve the capabilities of the labor pool, reducing the risk of impoverishment. On top of it, the increase in the average skill level will fuel the growth of a knowledge economy based on innovation, research and development. The European economy will become more competitive, creating wealth and jobs, closing a virtuous circle. Moreover, we can expect a “green economy” making our societies more environmentally-friendly, and therefore more profitable, as the side effects of a development not following environmentally sustainable practices are likely to result in very expensive containment measures.

One of the themes which is common to all these dimensions is technology. Much of the progress made in the recent past in the field of Information Technology and Communication (ICT) allow an holistic design for the city of the future, which is often linked to the concept of Smart City.

Within the huge number of essays on this topic a few elements are recurring. They will serve as a basis for identifying key concepts of urban form of the future.

In general way, the conceptualisation of Smart Cities follows from what we explained earlier on. The economic and technological changes that relate to globalisation belong the fabric of this domain. Cities find themselves facing the need to combine economic competitiveness and urban development, in a sustainable manner and style, preserving – or by creating – an outstanding quality of life. The concept of Smart City brings together all major current concerns.

However, we noticed a specific issue while studying this theme. The literature on this new city concept comes from engineers or urbanists, for the most part. In general, the humanities and social sciences seem not yet to have made this a thematic object of research. For instance, the following diagram, quite popular, is from the website “European Smart Cities”. The research team was constituted by members of the regional centre of science of the Vienna University of Technology, the Institute for Research on housing, urban mobility and implanted in the university technology Delft and the Department of Geography of the university of Ljubljana.

The basic model, found in many publications, promote a taxonomy with 6 domains, 31 sub- groups, and 74 indicators.

The result is a rather technocratic vision of the city, which is -at best- hard to apply. It is a holistic approach that pretends to understand everything and explain and master everything through a mathematical formula. However, understand and manage are two very different things: although knowledge and reason are the foundation of the modern world since the eighteenth century, the feeling is that this taxonomy goes too far in this direction. Science and its applications are supposed to give “The Answer” to everything. This assumption might not be fundamentally wrong if science was replaced by knowledge and wisdom; however, it’s impossible not to notice the return of a positivist conception with regards to analysis of the world aspects. The point is not to contest the importance that scientific observation and factual analysis can bring, but some recent research seem to have been published by a disciple of A Comte (1798-1857). It seems like the “hard science”, where every- thing can be quantified, and that define social laws as immutable, is taken as the cornerstone of every discussion and possible development. In this vision, the smart city concept goes between “Supreme Theory” and “Abstracted Empiricism”, two derivatives that CW Mills attributed to the sociology of the 1950s. The Supreme theory claims that purely formal studies can provide an analytical framework to the study of society. The abstract empiricism suggests that knowledge production is not based on a solid methodological basis, but on statistical results or surveys. This conceptual atrophy leads to forget or underestimate fundamental reflections that are sometimes the very essence of the studied object.

In any city there are three distinct factors:

– Aspects that do not change, or evolve with a speed which is by far slower than human life. It’s the case of history, for instance, or geography, or climate. The Coliseum is in Rome; the Statue of Liberty in New York. The average rainfall in Tokyo in November is 100 mm; Marseille is on the sea and Stockholm is on an archipelago. Now, while in course of centuries this can change (Pisa, when founded, was on the sea, while today it’s around 10 Km from the coast because of sediments brought by rivers), changes happen in course of centuries.
– Aspects that change slowly, and require a lot of effort and commitment. Cultural aspects, for instance, or major urban modifications. Jordaan district in Amsterdam, for instance, was only a few decades ago a working-class neighbourhood; nowadays is arguably the most expensive area in Netherlands. Detroit population dropped by 60% since 1950, and 25% since 2000.
– Aspects that can be changed easily. These aspects, which are often “cosmetic”, may nevertheless have an impact on the quality of life in a specific town. Use of NFC payments for public transport, for instance, or specific traffic restrictions, or else laws allowing (or disallowing) specific behaviours like smoking in public places.

Any city is a economical and social product. Urban spaces are often conceived as a functional organisation in which different areas have specific functions (residential areas, commercial ones, industries, . . . ). This politic, however, does not necessarily leads to good results.

The city peripheries (hinterlands) are often de facto on the margins of the city social and economical dynamics. The highest crime rates and the “urban violence” is often rooted in these areas. Therefore, we can see that a good number of social issues are first and foremost a spatial issue.

What it’s important to notice is that often Smart City projects are addressing only the third category. A common example is a service which seems to be widely used to indicate the smartness of a city: parking sensors with a dedicated app showing the available space at real time. While the usefulness of such developments can be debated, and positively argued, it does not tackle any of the city issues at its roots, but rather promote a digital divide exacerbating the existing separation between different realities within the same city.

As we discussed earlier on, the new trends in urban planning are focused on environmentally- friendly and technology. These urban utopias, such as Smart Cities, conceptualise certain elements that could be the building blocks of the cities of tomorrow. Their main defect is, however, not consider concrete historical realities, such as social polarisation. With a little imagination, it is nevertheless possible to consider the current trends in a positive way. We briefly discussed about the fragmentation of society, that transforms a city creating “self-segregation” zones based on attraction / repulsion process.

However, some current development allow people with a different logic, to co-exist and to share the same space. We are talking here about the are eco-neighborhoods, that reconcile economy and ecology, and often also social links. This type of habitat was very marginal and rural rather than urban until a short time ago. The passage from the countryside to the city is due to an evolution of mentalities and legislations favouring a more environmentally friendly living, This trend can therefore be seen as extremely positive as it tackles not only the cosmetic aspects of cities, but leverages technological advances developing a sustainable vision for future generations, on both social and economical level.

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Oh So Smart Parking

It’s two weeks before xmas and Alice is on full swing. As single mother, she needs to take care of her son Bob. Between her work, Bob and a bit of social life with her friends she does not have much time for anything else, and she made an art of saving time, doing things in parallel as much as possible. Alice is very excited as she got the brand new “oh-so-smart-parking” applet, that will tell her real-time availability of parking in the centre of the city. The city council advertised heavily this applet, and all her friends and colleagues downloaded it. As every xmas season, traffic is a mess close to the centre, and if she will not waste any time she will be able to go to cinema with her friends in the late afternoon, then pick Bob up from the swimming pool. Time is tight, and she cannot afford any “losses”. She knows exactly what she wants and in which shop to get it – she made her santi list and checked on Internet that all the shops have what she is looking for.

She though of ordering through Internet, but delivery is a problem: she does not want Bob to see his present, nor to mess around with the other ones, not to spend useless time dealing with delivery people that never came on the time they said. and, she wants presents to be nicely packed, not some generic “one-paper-fits-all” with fake ribbons on it.

She sits in her car and turns on her iphone. She selects the applet and sees that in the parking “Central Post Office (CPO)”, quite central for all the shopping, there are 10 places; in the parking “Harborside (HBS)” here are 20, while in the street between then there are 2 empty spaces. Another parking, “Town Hall (TH)”, which would be her best choice, is full.

– Oh well, says Alice, it’s xmas. I’ll head to the CPO parking then. She turns on the “beep” when there are new information. Parking availability is real-time, so as soon as availability changes in the area she selects, there will be a beep. Sounds really smart!

She starts driving, but after a few hundred meters she hears a “beep” from her iphone. She opens it and sees that there are now 2 available places at the TH.

– That’s really good, If I get there I can save at least 10 minutes! Anyway, the direction is the same, so for now no change.

Another few red lights, and another beep. Now the CPO has only 4 places, while the HBS has 25 and none are in the street.

Another red light. when it got green, though, she hears another beep. Alice gives a glance to the screen: now the TH parking is full, the CPO has only 2, and the HBS has 18 places left, and one in the street. While looking at the applet, though, Alice almost crashed the car: the one in front stopped suddenly and as she was looking at the iphone, she did a “near miss”.

– %$#@ can’t you learn how to drive? it’s green, just go! she shouts at the car in front.

Another beep. This time she waits for the red light to look at the screen. Now the TH parking has 3 places, the CPO is full, and the HBS has 12.

Another beep. Another beep. Another beep. Alice quickly looks at the iphone. Now the TH parking is full, the CPO has 2 places, none are left in the streets.

– That’s kind of annoying. I will need to choose soon if to go to the CPO or TH, as one-way street systems and pedestrian areas divide the two areas. One is north, one is south.

Another red light, another beep, Alice looks at the iphone. The TH parking has 5 places, the CPO is now full, and there are 3 places in the streets.

– Where shall I go now? next red light I have to choose!

Another beep. Another beep, light is green so she can’t stop. She quickly give a look at the screen, and it seems like there are places at the TH. So she turns left, towards TH.

Another beep. Another beep. Another beep. red light. She looks at the screen. Now the TH is full but there are a few places on the streets nearby. CPO has 7 places.

– Well, now I’m committed to TH, so let’s go there.

Another beep. Another beep. Another beep. Another beep. Alice looks at the screen, the TH now has 2 places, while the streets have no available places. the HBS parking has 10 places though, but among the three is the worst for her shopping round. the CPO has 7 places, but now it’s on the other side of the pedestrian area so no-go.

She is almost in front of the TH parking. Another beep. TH parking is full, but there is a place in the street nearby.

– well that’s fine. I will park there then. She turns right, and the car in front of her stops in front of the empty space and parks there.

– Oh noooo! s***! Now I have to go around the block.

Another beep. Another beep. Alice looks at the iphone, and sees that now there are 3 places at the TH parking. What she does not see is the old man crossing the street on the pedestrian crossing in front of her. She stops the car just in time.

– Stupid ***! shouts the man. You look at your text messages from your friends and almost hit me! He seems really angry.

– I’m so so sorry. I was just checking parking availability with my new “oh so smart parking” app! And as there is such a little availability of spaces …

Another beep.

– yeah, you need a stupid app to tell you there’s no parking in the centre at xmas time. That’s a good excuse. You would sound smarter if you tell me that you were looking at your boyfriend’s messages!

Another beep. Alice looks at the screen and now there are 3 places at the TH. She expresses her regrets again to the man and go towards the parking. Only 2 streets!

Another beep. The TH parking is full but one place in a nearby street. So Alice goes towards the empty spaces. So does the car in front, as they have the “oh-so-smart-parking” app. And the one in front. which takes the space.

Another beep. Another beep.

Alice is really fed up by now. she stops the car. She turns off the applet. She drives back to the entrance of the TH parking and waits when there is a space. She waits 1 minute, light goes green, she enters and park. As she did last year, the year before, and the one before …

– What a stupid app, let me delete it as its really useless – she says while walking towards the shops – I lost 10 minutes, almost killed a man and crashed my car, with this nonsense …

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The key IoT challenges

I’ve read with great attention the ten challenges that Stefan Ferber in his Bosch blog indicates as primary for IoT. You can find it at

While undoubtedly he touches very important topics, and I agree on a number of them, I think the absence of a clear taxonomy for the challenges is rather confusing, as it mixes different domains. The way these challenges are laid out makes me think that Stefan’s ten points are more a list to start a real brainstorming on the topic and to influence future roadmaps than a final list.

Any innovation touches 4 different and complementary field, listed here in no particular order.

1- Technology
2- Business models
3- Adoption
4- Governance

1- Technology
In the Technology area, at EPoSS we identified back a few years ago 9 different axes, where considerable advances were supposed to take place before a full IoT vision could be implemented. These axes are:

1- Miniaturisation
2- Harsh Environments
3- High Quality systems
4- Communication
5- Self-Organising systems
6- Identification
7- Zero Entropy
8- Integration in non-standards materials
9- Security

While some points are clearly similar with Stefan’s ones, if not the same, the accent we put was rather on the capabilities of the smart object itself, rather than on the effects that a fully-fledged IoT will bring. Nobody denies that the zillions of devices will produce a data deluge; but if we cannot package “smartness” into devices, if we cannot power the smartness, or if the device will simply fail as cannot resist to external conditions, then we won’t have any data coming.

Stefan’s most controversial point seems the big code one. His explanation brings this point close to the high-quality systems we identified. In logistics, for instance, a requirement could easily be a to have at least 99.99999% (“five nines”) reading precision. If a palette passes a gate, companies cannot afford to re-check every single item in the palette in case of a mis-reading, if not very seldom – every second check means time wasted and additional costs. However, for sure there will be issues; 100% precision systems do not exists (and never will), any system engineer knows that (or at least he should) and must deal with it. State machines are developed to default to harmlessness.

Stefan in an answer clarifies “big code” saying that

“our test assumption in Computer Science today is that code provided by others is error free. And that is simply not true.”.

I have to disagree on this. in my coding days, I never assumed that someone else code is error-free. That’s usually the best recipe for disaster. I always checked inputs, preconditions, and so on and so forth, and always provided some way to leave “gracefully” the current execution if something went wrong, even outside the scope of my programming. AFAIK this is quite normal practice for network programmers.

So, in case, I would rephrase his point to “Failure modes have to be simple and clearly published”, which, in EPoSS view, belongs to the self-organising area. Any environment of different smart objects must be able to self-manage itself, including when something goes wrong, of course. Just to make an example, in my opinion the IP protocol has proven so successful because of its very straightforward failure mode: either an IP packet reaches its destination or not. And if not, it simply doesn’t.

Therefore, high quality systems are those that can cope with (hopefully rare) failures in a graceful way; not that they avoid ANY failure.

2- Business Models
This is perhaps the single most important issue of IoT at present. Everybody talks about it, nobody knows exactly how to make money with it; and if they know, maybe they are trying to kill the baby in his cradle. Looking back at 1980, it’s impressive to see how the list of the top 100 companies by capitalisation has changed. Internet was a real game-changer, sending long-established companies out of business in just a few years. Mobile is on the same track: we just need to think about Nokia to see how the explosion of smartphones changed the market shape in less than 10 years.
Now, we can expect IoT to provoke a similar, if not bigger, revolution. Clearly, many of the current big fish will try to tame the wave – or to stop it altogether, for both calculation or little knowledge. I know of countless episodes of companies refusing to understand a new way of doing business – usually at their peril.
I suggested some time ago that being able to trace a device can bring the world towards a leasing economy rather than a consumption one. Generally, I don’t need to “buy” a tool; I need the service that the tools can provide, and from time to time only. When I don’t use my tool I just have an unused asset. If I could lend my tool and be able to bill precisely its usage, then I would make a much smarter use than my asset; or else, I can borrow it and have the same result at a fraction of the price I pay today. I asked Stefan some time ago how much a drill is used on average in his lifetime, and he told me it was less than a minute. A drill cost 100+ euro; just think at the cost-per-hole …
Clearly this model cannot be implemented on every single object (take the toothbrush as a counter-example), but we can go a long way towards it.

3- Adoption.
People say that a technology is ultimately successful when it enters the fabric of everyday’s life. Nobody today leaves home without his mobile phone without a sense of “nakedness”. When anyone needs some information about something, he googles it.
But what happens when the fabric itself has a much longer lifespan than the technology it’s supposed to host? I can put a sensor on any chair in an office, for asset management, for airco optimisation, for monitoring people presence, whatever. Now, the technology of the sensor itself is will probably be obsolete in 18 months. The chair might be there for 18 years. Will we be able to develop legacy systems spanning several decades of technological developments? Will companies push for extreme consumerism in domains typically conservative, such as furniture? I might change mobile phone every 2 years, but I don’t change my air conditioning unit or all my shirts that often. My drill is 20 years old, it still works pretty well, and I have no plans to change it in the foreseeable future.
New adoption models need then to be developed, likely together with new business models, especially if based on the leasing of services rather than on possession of tools. But will a company (like Bosch) be happy to sell only 1 drill instead of 10.000, and then develop a leasing scheme where a drill is used by an entire community for a couple of years then put out of service (and then dismantled and hopefully recycled)? And how this switch between an economy based on buying goods to one based on leasing services can happen?

4- Governance

The issue with IoT governance is that currently there are long-established institutions that take care of specific parts of the big “IoT” picture, and nobody seems very willing to compromise. When the Internet started, there was a clean slate, so IP addresses, for instance, could be allocated by a single authority without any problems. However, as IoT will span over totally different activity and technological domains, the same will not apply.

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Internet of Everything – but not for Everybody

I saw that CIsco is organising a meeting called “Internet of Things World Forum” in Barcelona.

First of all, it’s interesting to see that they seem to have dropped the “every”. Cisco used to have their own “IoE” label for what the rest of us called IoT, but claiming that there was a difference and demonstrating in a rather byzantine way the difference between the two acronyms. I’m not entering this minefield – on Postscapes there are already 40+ definitions of IoT, I spent afternoons discussing at ITU and elsewhere of definitions, I don’t really want to go down that way.

Reading on, something struck me: this supposedly “world forum” is not open to everyone. It clearly states “This exclusive, invitation-only event”. And if you were not invited? Well, you can go see in the FAQ how to do:

“If I am interested but didn’t receive an invitation, can I be considered for attendance?
If you did not receive an invitation and are interested in attending, submit your information for consideration through the “Refer” button above.”

Basically, you have to beg them and show them that you are really interested and good in IoT stuff and please please please consider me (and I guess then bombard them by emails, and knowing someone going there will not hurt for sure).

Just to make sure: I wasn’t invited and I’m not looking for an invitation. The exact same days I will be in NYC to speak at Imperial College and IEEE, so the only way I could attend would have been to send a clone.

I mean, Cisco or any other company can do whatever they want with whoever they want. Even open a web site with a few logos and propose some IoT Alliance (IoT Consortium is already taken). In a sense, I’m more curious of what they will prepare there. They seem to be preaching to the choir, looking at the program; but maybe I’m wrong, there is no public list of attendees, and the New World Order that will be drafted by Cisco and his invitees-only event will bring “magnificent ends and progressive” to the whole rest of us, club-fisted IoT-vandals,  left outside the room.

Let’s see if there will be some public result form this Bilderberg-like IoT sect, maybe they will let you follow on Twitter – #IoTWF, which is rather easy to remember, just think of IoT WTF 🙂

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IoT intelligence or human stupidity?

What exactly IoT systems are supposed to do: are they supposed to replace current systems, open new ways of doing things or “just” to enhance existing solutions?

I make an example. If you have a lift in a building, it enhances the experience of going to the last floor. But if the lift is out of service, you can still go upstairs. Walking. It takes time and effort, but you can if you really want.

We can agree that IoT systems should never replace existing ones, and humans should have the “last word”. In a sense, this is what Adam Greenfield claims, in his book Everyware (Thesis 73 and 75, Everyware must default to harmlessness, Everyware must be deniable).

Nobody wants a world dominated by some machine diktat.

But if we take some specific example, we may notice that actually some of the bigger disasters are caused by human stupidity.  Let’s take Nuclear Power Stations. They have been around now since 50 years or so.  They have sensors and actuators, and we can easily say they fall into the IoT domain.

The two main nuclear accidents, Chernobyl and Fukushima, happened because of a series of bad human decisions, ignoring and overriding clear procedures.

For Chernobyl, the official IAEA report states that

“The developers of the reactor plant considered this combination of events to be impossible and therefore did not allow for the creation of emergency protection systems capable of preventing the combination of events that led to the crisis, namely the intentional disabling of emergency protection equipment plus the violation of operating procedures. Thus the primary cause of the accident was the extremely improbable combination of rule infringement plus the operational routine allowed by the power station staff”

For Fukushima, the Economist in a report stated that

” The reactors at Fukushima were of an old design. The risks they faced had not been well analysed. The operating company was poorly regulated and did not know what was going on. The operators made mistakes. The representatives of the safety inspectorate fled. Some of the equipment failed. The establishment repeatedly played down the risks and suppressed information about the movement of the radioactive plume, so some people were evacuated from more lightly to more heavily contaminated places”

now, humans fail. Errare humanum est. We all know that the “real” issues are the one unexpected. But would anyone trust an automatic machine better, in case of a disaster?

We are getting into a very slippery area, with philosophical question. We might agree that automatic system should not replace human decision. But we might enter a “science-fiction” area, similar to the rules that Isaac Asimov wrote for robots:
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
(which BTW implies that robots know what harming a human being is. )
Should we apply similar rules for IoT in the NPS context? If we would have enough experience to say without any doubts “what” can harm, then yes. But a IoT system at Fukushima, would know about the possibility of Tsunami? IAEA warned in 2008 about those risks, which apparently were ignored because “unrealistic”. Shall an IoT system know as well such a report, and shut down the base (back in 2008) to minimise risks? o be alerted that in case of an earthquake+tsunami, immediately the safety procedures will start?

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