City of the future
More people, more data
Research scientists are frequently on the lookout for concepts concerning the city of the future. How will we travel? How will we shop, and how will our lives become more secure? A workshop report from China, where scientists are counting primarily on intelligent data management.
The Firm GCKS is developing many such products, with which they are aspiring to transform cities into so-called Smart Cities. Their portfolio extends from cloud-platforms for huge mountains of data in city administrations to public WiFi stations to digital control of street lamps. Smart City – this term obviously means more than just digitalisation of individual subdivisions in a city; the goal here is integration of all data streams. The huge mountains of data gathered from various sources – called “Big Data” – are being re-packaged into new applications, in order for cities to generate improved performance for their citizens. This would include, for example, “Open Data” (i.e. free access to urban administration data), as well as intelligent power-supply grids and traffic solutions.
Smart Cities have become an important topic all over the world for research scientists as well in recent years; the unstoppable influx of in-migration into the major cities has presented science with unforeseen challenges in, for example, development of the appropriate infrastructure, sufficient supply or the development of innovative living and employment concepts. “In 1975 only 38 percent of all humans were city dwellers. Since 2008 more than half of humanity lives in cities; by 2030 this will presumably grow to two-thirds”, as claimed by the research project Future Megacities, which was initiated by the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).
If the congestion reports were networked with the vehicles, cars in the future could be selectively re-routed to avoid congested areas.
Each small illuminated point is an electric bus, an electric sweeper or some other form of utility vehicle
Particularly in the transport sector, there are many ideas for user-friendly individual solutions: research scientists have developed an application in Beijing that displays all electric-car charging stations in the city – including the distance to the driver who is looking for such a station. This makes sense, since there are heretofore not very many charging stations. “The application is supported by our Big Data Centre for electric cars throughout China”, says Sun Fengchun, Director of the National Engineering Laboratory for Electric Cars at the Beijing Institute of Technology. A large electronic monitor in his institute displays a street map of Beijing, on which the 300 city electric busses, electric sweepers and other municipal utility vehicles are moving. Such data pools are, according to experts, useful in order to extrapolate models for other cities that would like to introduce electric busses, for example. According to the opinion of mostly Western experts, however, the inhibition threshold for storing large amounts of data is considerably lower in China when compared to the West, where a measure like this would immediately trigger debates regarding data protection.
How the increasing urbanisation looks statistically, can be observed today in China. Since the economic liberalisation began 30 years ago, more than 500 million Chinese have moved into the cities. The rate of urbanisation currently amounts to 53.7 percent, and by 2020 this should rise to 60 percent according to a recently presented urbanisation plan – this means 90 million more city dwellers. It will cost about 40 billion Yuan (approximately 5.5 billion euros) to implement this official urbanisation plan, and the money flows primarily into development of the necessary infrastructure.
In China – as is the case in the EU – applications in the fields of environment, energy and transport are favoured. This is the key statement from a comparative study regarding Smart-City pilot cities in China and Europe, which was published by the EU Commission and the China Academy of Telecommunications Research. As regards development of open data systems and cloud computing, the EU cities are allegedly still a bit ahead of the Chinese cities. According to the study, the central government in China is furthermore more strongly involved than in Europe, where the cities in most cases make their city-planning independently. According to the will of the city-planners, in China the in-migration into the megacities is supposed to be “strictly regulated” – in other words, limited. This is because Beijing and Shanghai already have 20 million inhabitants each, while Guangzhou and Shenzhen in the deep south are at 10 million each. In-migration into smaller cities on the other hand is supported. And they are supposed to be better networked; by 2020, all cities with up to 200,000 residents shall obtain rail access, and according to the plan all cities with up to 500,000 residents shall receive connection to the high-speed network of the railway system. “Since the smaller cities are the primary focus of the urbanisation programme, they also represent the core of the research regarding Smart Cities”, says Jiang Chuyun from the National Smart City Joint Lab. Her office is located in a backcourt in West Beijing; the research centre is a kind of umbrella organisation for numerous research projects supported by the government. Communes, universities and enterprises all work together in these so-called Joint Labs. The Ministry for House Building and Urban and Rural Development selected local regions and development zones for the China National Smart City Pilot Project 193, which opened up access for them to a multi-billion dollar financial source with the national Development Bank.
We need the enterprises in order to implement research results into action”, says Wan Biyu, Chief Scientists of the Joint Labs. Smart City concepts help in guiding urbanisation in the right direction – Wan is convinced of this. “Of course, it has to be done the right way. The master plan of a city must be suitable and the technology has to be carefully selected.” This is because it has to be a proper fit not only for the present – it also has to work in the future, once the city has developed further.