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A fresh approach to smart cities

A fresh approach to smart cities banner

Bill Wilson leads on data and analytics at Kainos. In this post, he discusses new techniques for collecting and sharing urban data.

When I discuss the challenges of smart city projects with others, I often hear this diagnosis: we are plagued with ‘pilot-itis’ when it comes to Smart Cities. No shortage of initiatives, but very few that really stick. So, it’s exciting to work with a company like Telensa that is tackling this problem head-on.

Telensa are the world leader in smart street lighting and also is a growing smart city business. In launching the Urban Data Project this year, Telensa recognised the benefit data insights can play in making cities more effective and more pleasant places to live. The elements that the Urban Data Project. brings together are unique: an intelligent multi-sensor device and the City Data Guardian platform.

An aerial view of St. John's College in Cambridge, England.

City Data Guardian

Woman Riding Bicycle On Street In Cambridge

The City Data Guardian is at the heart of the Urban Data Project: an Azure-based data collection and distribution solution with privacy and trust at its core. The City Data Guardian enables municipal authorities to take full control of their data, surface new insights, improve services and develop new revenue streams using AI and analytics. Kainos is Telensa’s platform partner, helping to build and operate the platform and it’s great to finally be able to share more about our role in the Urban Data Project consortium.

Data accountability in smart cities

Data trust is at the top of the news and political agenda – and rightly so. Organisations entrusted with public data must be accountable. Even more so when data volumes increase and IOT devices are involved.

The City Data Guardian, built within Azure’s multi-layered security environment, allows cities to apply bespoke privacy policies, ensure regulatory compliance, and make data available via the cloud. In addition, the platform has reporting features aimed at citizens to show where and how data has been shared. When I wrote my last Kainos blog about data ethics, I little realised how prescient it was.

Agility in data collection

The new devices (equipped with Microsoft IOT Edge) will be mounted on streetlights and have the advantage of agility. While many cities face similar challenges, priorities differ. However, once a capability has been developed for one city, it can be rolled out globally with little or no adaptation.

The necessity of urban data

It’s exciting to be part of a project that showcases Kainos’ expertise in analytics, data architecture and data engineering, bolstered by our own partnership with Microsoft. What’s more rewarding still is to be involved with an initiative with the potential to deliver so much public benefit across the world.

According to the UN, more than half the world’s population live in urban areas and that will increase to 60 percent by 2050. This puts resources and infrastructure under strain and therefore it is essential to use data insights to drive more efficient use of our cities, if we are to maintain or improve current living standards.

Data and analytics represent incredibly good value for money in terms of making better use of existing city spaces. As the necessity of instrumenting the city grows, so the humble lamp post becomes prime real-estate, providing power and physical anchorage that is owned by the city – and of course this something Telensa understand well.

Is this a fresh approach? Increasing numbers of cities that Telensa are engaged with think so – not least our first site in Cambridge, UK. We’re gathering our first streams of urban data from a city which has given the world so many pioneering inventions, but which also has some urgent issues that citizens want to see addressed.

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Bill Wilson headshotAbout the author

Bill heads up the Kainos Data & Analytics capability and is the Architecture Lead for the Urban Data Project. By profession Bill is an Enterprise Data Architect and has spent more than 20 years wrestling with data challenges in commerce, government, and the third sector.