Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins on smart cities architecture: Step by step

Cisco remains 'very involved' in smart cities deployments across the globe, CEO Chuck Robbins told ZDNet.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

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While the delivery of smart cities solutions requires an overarching plan, they often end up being deployed one project at a time, while focusing on the bigger picture had actually slowed down Cisco in its smart cities push previously, CEO Chuck Robbins has told ZDNet.

"I think it's like any other complex technology architecture; I think you should have some idea of what the end state looks like, but the reality is if you're going to start from there, you'll never do anything," Robbins told ZDNet during Cisco Live 2018 in Orlando.

"I think this is one of the problems we had for many years -- we got caught up trying to do a lot."

Smart cities deployments therefore end up being rolled out one project at a time depending on what the most required use cases for a given city are, he said, such as smart parking, traffic management, smart lighting, and waste management.

According to Robbins, this reality is often at odds with what people have come to expect when a smart city is announced.

"I think there's a misconception that when someone assesses whether there's a smart city or not, people say, 'well, there's not a 100 percent complete architecture across a city that connects everything from traffic lights to water systems, to electrical grids and everything', but the reality is is most customers are taking one, two, three, four use cases that are the most important in that particular region, and actually building against that," Robbins explained.

"People's expectation is that there's going to be a big glowing halo around a city when it becomes smart, and it's going to be obvious to everyone that it's a smart city ... every city's looking at a lot of different things, and we're typically involved in most every one of those projects around the world right now."

Robbins told ZDNet that Cisco is additionally involved in helping build smart cities in China from the ground up, which does allow for a more complete picture to be drawn prior to deployment.

"There's very few countries in the world that are actually clearing land and building smart cities from the ground up, but you can guess who one of them is, and we're actually partnering on a number of those in China right now where they literally are just starting and they're building the entire thing," he told ZDNet.

"In that case, you can build a holistic smart city -- in other cases, when you're retrofitting, I think you have to define that architecture at the start."

Read also: Cisco Live 2018: CEO Chuck Robbins pushes tighter datacentre security

Speaking during Cisco Live, City of Las Vegas chief innovation officer Michael Sherwood said one project has seen him working with Cisco on preventing pedestrian fatalities throughout the city.

"How do we detect near misses at intersections, how do we use that data then to change the way that intersections are designed and built, how do we use that intelligence that we're gathering from these sensors to maybe take mediation steps?" Sherwood said.

"Maybe we can pre-empt the light to change from green to red to avoid it happening, so the loss of life at any level, whether it be a young child on their way to school or a citizen or a tourist to the city, we really want to understand how we can prevent accidents, and having this type of real-time data really changes the way we look and design intersections."

The City of Las Vegas is also working on an autonomous shuttle that knows how many people are waiting at each stop and plans space accordingly; kerb-monitoring systems so vehicles can have space to stop; and street sweeping when it's required rather than just once a week.

"It's all about connecting government to citizens, and connecting citizens with experiences and amenities," Sherwood said.

The smart cities partnership with the City of Las Vegas had been announced at Cisco Live 2017, and initially involved using Cisco's connected cameras, sensors, and platforms to collect and analyse data across environment, traffic, water, crowd control, transit, lighting, waste management, security, and parking.

Town of Cary chief information officer Nicole Raimundo, meanwhile, said her town had partnered with Cisco on intelligent parking lot and traffic solutions, and is likewise using the Cisco Kinetic for Cities platform.

One example included the intelligent processes that take place when a traffic light goes out.

"Our vision is that as soon as that happens, it sends off a work order automatically, it streams the video to our 311 centre, where they can have a good look at what's going on, it'll also reroute via Waze," she said.

"It'll also fire off something to the police department, so they can get someone out there to start to help direct traffic. So our vision with the technology is not so much that they will understand or see it every day; it's just going to automatically happen, their lives will improve."

Erwin Rademaker, director of the Port of Rotterdam, said his company has used Cisco's Kinetic platform while adding millions of sensors into its operations to track tides, water levels, wind, and salinity for cargo ships entering and leaving the Dutch port.

"Cisco is key -- the Kinetic part of it delivers all security and all data extraction from these mission-critical sensors and delivers it to the IBM Watson platform," Rademaker said at Cisco Live on Tuesday.

Rademaker added that the Port of Rotterdam is also looking to improve its security offerings, with Cisco providing "the physical part of it".

"The second part we want to really try out is blockchain technology," he explained.

Cisco's focus on smart cities also saw the company announce a smart cities partnership with AT&T and the investment of AU$1 million in a pilot of smart city technology in Adelaide in February.

Disclosure: Corinne Reichert travelled to Cisco Live in Orlando as a guest of Cisco

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