Smart cities are enabled by technology, but there’s a lot more to them than that. “A smart city is about people, intentions, programmes and initiatives,” explains Edwin Diender, Vice President, Government & Public Utility Sector in Huawei Enterprise Business Group.
At the Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona, Huawei Enterprise is demonstrating its smart city hub, a platform for bringing together all the disparate elements that make up a smart city.
For a city to be truly smart, he says it needs to bring together things like smart water, Internet of Things (IoT), smart energy, smart offices and buildings, intelligent traffic management and collaborative emergency services.
“We have to stop talking about verticals markets, and about product lines,” Diender says. “We have to think more horizontally; taking the different pieces and enabling them to work together. We also need to create a platform or industry domain where players in the same as well as different industries can work together with and from the same technology stack, but, of course, each in their own unique way.
“The important thing is that the product is no longer at the centre of the solution. Rather, there is an organisational structure.”
For the last year, Huawei Enterprise has been expounding the principle of the smart city as a nervous system; and now it is showcasing the nerve centre – or brain – that controls the various parts of the system.
Importantly, the intelligent operations centre (IOC) – the brain of the outfit – interoperates with all the different elements that make up a smart city, regardless of the architecture or technology, and regardless of the supplier.
“The central nervous system is based on Huawei technology,” Diender explains. “But it links to various other parts of the ecosystem at the periphery.” Huawei Enterprise stayed true to the analogy of the nervous system and brain when it demonstrated the intelligence operations centre at the Smart City Expo World Congress .
“We stuck to the metaphor, and magnified all the things that are found inside this brain,” Diender says. “This let us highlight all the industry services that go into making a smart city, as well as geospatial information that underpin many of the solutions.”
The IOC is working in the real world, and has been launched as a solution. “It is a commercialised solution,” Diender says. “It works, it comes with a solution guide, and it supports the digital journey that cities are taking.”
A product or solution implies a certain amount of fixed structure and rigid processes, but Diender says the beauty of the IOC is the fact that it is agile, flexible and able to transform to fit the circumstances. “Some things are hard coded into the solution, but many things are intuitive,” he says.
This intuition, and the ability to learn, is enabled by artificial intelligence (AI). “Using AI, it isn’t that difficult to apply the capabilities of a technology-driven brain to a smart city,” Diender explains.
“In other applications, intelligence has been brought into the form factor of a robot that can hold conversations with people. What we have done is put it into the form factor of a room, the IOC that acts as the technology-driven brain of a smart city.”
The concept of the network operations centre (NOC) and the service operations centre (SOC) are not new in the IT industry. But the IOC goes well beyond these, Diender says.
“Instead of simply managing operations according to pre-defined rules and processes, the IOC can interpret data and come up with meaningful action depending on the unique circumstances.
“It is AI-ready, enabled for virtual reality (VR) and provisioned to take advantage of augmented reality (AR).”
This means the IOC can retrieve data from various sources, visualise it in context, and come up with an action that suits the environment.
“So I could take static maps and overlay them with live data,” Diender describes a possible use case.
“And this technology can make cities smarter without threatening anyone’s jobs. Rather, it is about making the existing workers more efficient and giving their jobs more value.”
Not only does the new technology enhance existing jobs, it creates new opportunities for young people entering the workforce.
“It allows us, as a company, to apply a degree of social responsibility when it comes to deploying these solutions. For example, we could use the technology to help students get experience through internships. And maybe, after their graduation, there is a job.”
Because a smart city can never be a short-term project, Diender believes they should be viewed as a long-term proposition, with value continuing to accrue throughout the lifetime.
“Before, technology was deployed as a project,” he explains. “There was a stop-go motion, limited budgets and pre-determined timelines. But now we are totally flipping those business principles. We are talking about integrating with various ecosystems to initiate the programs and initiatives, thus adding long-term value and creating more jobs.”
Once systems all interoperate within the context of the IOC, Diender says cities can start adding value that goes beyond what they are able to do today – and at a lower cost. He cites the example of an intelligent traffic management system. This offers citizens great value because it eases their commuting experience.
“But if you hit a pothole while you are driving, you still have to call an emergency number to get a tow-truck dispatched. And the road really should be repaired.
“Now imagine that the CCTV cameras that control speeding by taking snapshots of vehicles could also be used to benchmark the state of the road. This means they are more efficient themselves because they are performing an additional function over and above what they were deployed for; and they allow the city to be more proactive while saving money.”
Other examples include saving electricity by using motion sensors to turn off street lights when there’s no movement. These same sensors – and lights – can be used for public safety by turning on when there is movement.
Meanwhile, sockets could be fitted to street lights that let people charge their mobile phones or even electric vehicles, possibly paying for the service.
“So now we have three things happening, all leveraging the same infrastructure,” Diender says. “The city is saving money on lighting; meanwhile there is an improvement in public safety; and at the same time you’re giving people great value, while in parallel opening up a new revenue stream and service channels.
“Cities could also open up business opportunities for other companies and individuals to leverage the ecosystems and provide additional services and value.”
Of course, this cascading value can only happen if there is an intelligent, agile brain that is able to learn and adapt, he says – and this is now available thanks to Huawei Enterprise and its new IOC.
Smart City demo
At the Smart City Expo World Congress Huawei is demonstrating comprehensive Smart City solutions together with SAP, Honeywell, Hexagon, Chinasoft International, Esri, RuiCheng Technology and other industry partners at the SCEWC, including the following:
* Huawei leverages its IoT platform, LiteOS operating system, and advanced technologies such as Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT), eLTE-IoT and AI to build ubiquitous sensing systems. Smart applications, such as smart rubbish bins, smart streetlight, smart watering, smart building, smart metering, and smart healthcare, improve city administration efficiency, public security, and people’s livelihoods. Visualized and collaborative city administration and enhanced emergency response and decision-making efficiency are achieved with the support of an IOC, which comprises a cloud data center, a Big Data service support platform, and an ICT application enablement platform.
* Huawei’s cloud technology supports the development of innovative administration services for governments and innovative public services for residents. Services include but are not limited to smart government, smart healthcare, smart education, smart electricity, and smart transportation, raising the public satisfaction.
* Huawei launched the Smart Campus Solution to drive industrial evolution and development, promoting the integration of digitisation and intelligence. In Dunhuang in China, Huawei’s cloud data centre, Big Data platform, and IoT technology have improved Silk Road tourism service quality and intelligent public services. In 2016, the annual number of tourists increased to 8-million, a 32% growth compared to 2015. Scenic spots are now capable of hosting 40% more tourists with 20% less service personnel.