Santander to become Spain's first 'smart city'

SANTANDER -- The new citywide near-field communication plan will help you find parking spots, plan your bus routes and shop at a single tap.
Written by Jennifer Riggins, Contributor

SANTANDER--By summer, the Spanish city of Santander will delve into an "augmented reality."

The northern seaside city has announced this week that a network of near-field communication sensors will be designed and implemented over this spring and summer. These sensors will allow users to know the location of street parking spaces and when the next bus is coming, along with the ability to pay at a single tap. Also, as part of the smart city, the mayor promised that before the summer, they will begin experimenting with automatically varying light intensity during different times of day and based on different traffic flows.

The Santander City Council has approved a pilot project to adapt its first "NFC City." Near-field communication is the newest Q-R code, where you can simply bring your smartphone near a receiver in order to pay or garner information. By the end of this year, the public transit, local stores and restaurants and the public University of Cantabria should all be NFC pay ready.

In last week's announcement, mayor Iñigo de la Serna said in the announcement last week that "This is one of the most comprehensive pilot projects with this technology to date in our country, since, unlike other cities, Santander aims to integrate multiple services and payment technologies beyond using mobile contact-less and mobile devices from different manufacturers."

It will "shortly" be in effect on the bus system. Patrons will not just be able to use it to pay for their trips, but also they can use NFC to check balances, travel histories, and plan trips and transfers at any of the NFC recharging points. It has the added bonus of providing next arrival times. For safety purposes, recently, Spanish bus drivers have been only providing change for under a euro, with no guarantee of change at all, so this would provide some flexibility to customers that do not have monthly passes.

Some Spanish cities, like Madrid, have electronic notice boards at about half the stops, which count down the minutes to the next arrival of each line, while also providing public service updates, route changes and the time and temperature. These are also equipped with a button that can be pushed for the announcements to be played aloud. With so many announcements, sometimes one cycle can last around two minutes, which is a long time at a stop that services many bus lines. The benefit of using NFC technology would be similar results, but in shorter times and provide users with only the information necessary to them. It also would save the city the cost of buying these large L.E.D. screens.

Supposedly, NFC users will also have enhanced mobile phone signal as well. Madrid already has WiFi signal on all its buses, but it rarely works enough to connect, except in areas with many buses like Plaza de Cibeles.

Cities in China, Germany, Austria and Latvia are already using NFC on their bus and other public transportation systems. The leaders of Barcelona and Vitoria have said they are also in the first stages of planning their own "smart cities," but haven't revealed what exactly that means.

A partnership between the city of Santander and Telefónica, the university and several unnamed banks will work together to design, plan and implement the system. It's expected that it will be ready for the public bus system and other municipal services "soon." Then, it can be extended around the city to private businesses.

Telefónica, which owns the popular cell phone brand Movistar, is using this as a tester to see if it may want to extend the technology to other cities around Spain and eventually the world.

SmartPlanet already reported that while only ten percent of NFC-ready smartphones were purchased in 2011, more than half of all smartphones produced and sold in 2012 will be NFC-enabled. This is not factoring in iPhones, which have not spoken yet about their position on NFC technology.

Spain does not have similar credit card debt problems, as with nations like the U.S. and the U.K. However, it seems as if NFC payment systems would make it even easier to spend money. It's a known fact that people are more thrifty then they are using cash.

With the Spanish owning more smartphones per capita--about half the population--than any other country in the eurozone, it is ripe to test and utilize the new NFC technology. Only time will tell if these people in crisis will end up spending more money and thus boosting the economy, simply because it's easier to spend.

Photo: Wikipedia & Virtual Tourist

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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