City of Melbourne pushes for smart cities built on IT

The City of Melbourne has presented the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications with its vision of an internet connected Smart City.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The City of Melbourne wants to embrace a smart city approach, whereby IT enhances liveability and achieves economic, social, and sustainability goals.

Speaking before the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications' inquiry into the role of smart ICT in the design and planning of infrastructure on Friday, the City said technology should be used for asset management, integrated parking, design, mapping, modelling, and data-based public tools for way finding and community engagement.

The City said it has already established a "Smart City" office which incorporates research, innovation, and geographic information systems through the Internet of Things (IoT).

"We work with industry, the [Melbourne] university, and community centres to encourage experimentation and a generation of ideas and solutions to infrastructure management issues," City representative Austin Ley told the committee.

"Our priority areas are open data; engagement with, and the involvement of, external plans; development of urban spaces which are IT enabled; high-bandwidth connectivity -- both wired and wireless; using IT to enhance performance; and responding to both positive and negative disruptive impacts."

Currently, Melbourne employs IoT technology throughout urban areas such as in Fitzroy Gardens in Docklands. The City has solar powered sensors in the area that it said collects real time data on temperature, light, and humidity. The community can also email trees in Melbourne, the City's program manger Lorraine Tighe said, adding they will even reply to your email.

"Complex urban challenges can now be addressed collaboratively via Smart communities comprising hyper-connected, technologically agile, and often entrepreneurial innovators," the City said in its submitted response [PDF]. "These Smart communities are the new agents of change and the generators of knowledge."

"What we're going to head towards in the near future -- and we're getting there now -- I don't think anything will be built in the real world until we've built it in the virtual world," City of Melbourne representative David Hassett told the Committee.

"What we're going to see is a shift to what we call parametric models, which will enable us to see scenarios, test assumptions, and build the thing in the virtual world before committing enormous resources to it."

He said modelling in the virtual world should match that of the real world, adding that the rights of people in the virtual world will need to be examined.

"I think there needs to be some legislative examinations into that," he said.

Currently, the City employs a pedestrian counting system which measures pedestrian activity by transmitting "invaluable" data from 42 wireless pedestrian counting sensors across the Central Business District to a central server and a visualisation website.

Committee chair Jane Prentice MP said that security and personal privacy is a critical issue when it comes to the discussion of data collection.

"Something we get a lot of pushback on as federal MPs is personal rights and privacy issues," Prentice said.

"One of the challenges in this space, as well is the constant change that is happening, is having legislation that could respond to that constant change in that space; all levels of government, and the private sector have been playing catch up in this space from day one."

The City said it was recently awarded a grant from the IBM Smarter Cities Program to assist in developing its understanding of community engagement processes, related to "anticipation and coordination of municipal responses before, during, and after, extreme events in order to minimise adverse impacts on health and safety, infrastructure and economy".

Representatives from IBM Australia also spoke to the Committee on Friday, presenting findings from its report, IBM's Submission for the Role of Smart ICT in the Design, Planning & Delivery of Infrastructure.

IBM's submission [PDF] details how smart technologies can "revolutionise the way in which physical infrastructure is delivered in Australia", which it said is in line with global best practice.

"By deploying new enabling technologies, we can make our age-old existing infrastructure more efficient and reliable and potentially offsetting new investment in the longer term: our power grids; our water networks; our transport systems," the submission said.

Michael Dixon, General Manager for IBM's global smarter cities told the committee on Friday that smarter cities are about applying the 21st century techniques to intrinsically "dumb things" by way of the IoT.

He said that embedding smart devices into existing systems such as transport, water, and waste, as well into health and education, will offer governments great opportunities.

"Cloud, analytics, and social networks should be utilised," Dixon said. "Using big data can only attract the brightest of minds to the gnarliest of problems."

"We have to engage young people; we are making decisions for a future we can only imagine. Invest in those younger than us who will be there in the future."

In 2011, Townsville was selected by the computer giant as one of the 24 worldwide cities to receive a grant worth around $400,000 to help implement technologies to make its city smarter.

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