Smart bikes, automization in buildings, faster infrastructures and an increasing number of connected devices. How will living in cities change in the near future? Andrian Kreye (Sueddeutsche Zeitung) talks with Assaf Biderman (MIT Lab / Superpedestrian), Claudia Nemat (Deutsche Telekom) and Niko Mohr (MCKinsey).
“Cities have long been places of attraction”, Assaf Biderman, Associate Director of the SENSEable City Lab at MIT and founder of Superpedestrian, begins his intro talk to the panel. Today more than half of the population of the planet lives in a city. By 2030, it is predicted that as many people as are living today will have moved to the city. Cities have become the core of our civilization. However, the growth has also introduced some challenges like congestion, environmental pollution, issues of poverty and crime.
At the same time there's a technological shift that helps us tackle some of these challenges. Due to the digitization you can sense a lot of physical processes and analyze the data.
One example is a project by the SENSEable City Lab that they developed from analysing data by cabs. They found that there is a lot of symmetry of people going somewhere and travelling back. So they developed a mathematical solution through a sharability network that allowed them to
reduce the number of cars by 40%. People just needed to wait two minutes to share their trip with another person and would be dropped of at least 50 meters from where they wanted to go.
Another example is Superpedestrian which started as a cooperation between MIT and the city of Copenhagen. Trying to find an attractive alternative to using cars, they looked at cycling and found that there is a big dropoff from cycling for ways that are longer than 15 km. So they decided to develop a little robot that would kick in. The device sits inside the bycicle's wheel. It learns how you ride and is able to multiply your powers up to 40 times depending on which terrain you are on. In addition, you can control it via your phone or also use the API to develop your own apps for it.
“How far ahead of the future of the smart city are we?” Andrian asks to kick off the panel. “If you are waiting for a suburban train in the rush hour, you still feel that your city is pretty dumb.” The panelists agree that there is no lack of data, but there's still a lack of analysation, meaningful intrepretation and access.
In developed countries most decisions are driven by business cases, Niko states. While in the developing countries innovation is driven by the challenges they are facing. This makes these countries likely to leapfrog implementing elements of the smart city.
Andrian notes, that there are also a lot of cities that are build from scratch for example in Asia. How can European cities compete with them?
There is of cause an opportunity: If you are constructing a city from scratch you can consider all aspects of digitization, Claudia responds. However, she does not share the negative perspective on European cities. The fastest growing consumer segment today is the group of retiring people. So Nemat expects a lot of innovation around smart homes, assisted living and mobility. European cities are not badly positioned. There's a fantastic industrial sector that is able to connect the physical and the digital. There is capital and there are also pain points that serve as motors for innovation. One thing we can still work on is the entrepreneurial spirit, courage and boldness.