All things green in smart cities thanks to smart data

Gleanings: International Conference on Smart Data and Smart Cities (SDSC).

"6th International Conference on Smart Data and Smart Cities" (SDSC) from Sept. 15 to 17, 2021 at the Stuttgart University of Applied Sciences (HFT Stuttgart).

The refrain: "It's coming home" is a tribute to soccer coming home. First performed by the band Lightning Seeds in their song "Three Lions" during the 1996 European Football Championship in England, the refrain is still relevant today. And not only in soccer stadiums, but also at conferences. One example was offered by the "6th International Conference on Smart Data and Smart Cities" (SDSC) from Sept. 15 to 17, 2021, at the Stuttgart University of Applied Sciences (HFT Stuttgart). A hybrid event, organized by the HFT Stuttgart in cooperation with the Urban Data Management Society (UDMS), as part of the "Smart City" science week. Thus, the conference made a stop in Germany again after 50 years. Or to put it another way: The data conference "is coming home" with smart solutions for smart cities.  

When the first Urban Data Management Symposium (UDMS) was held in Bonn in 1971, probably no one had any idea of the dynamics with which data management would change in the following 50 years. Today, half a century later, and following the reorganization of the UDMS event into the SDSC in Split, Croatia, in 2016, data management has fundamentally evolved. Reason enough for a look at the current state as well as developments and solutions around the smart data world for the cities of today and tomorrow.

Processes and procedures – based on 3D technology

"Smart Solutions for Smart Cities need sensors and geospatial data." This is how Prof. Dr. Volker Coors, Scientific Director of the Institute for Applied Research (IAF), Computer Science and Geoinformatics, HFT Stuttgart, concluded it in his opening speech to the 2.5-days-of-SDSC. A good example, he said, is the Urban Digital (GEO) Twin in Helsinki, Finland. An accurate model of the existing city structure was created on site, incorporating future plans.

The approach allows for the development of processes and procedures based on 3D technology. Digital twins thus offer the possibility, for example, of setting up the entire planning and construction process digitally – even before ground is broken.

Digital Twin: The Next Level of Smart City Management

The role that digital twins can play for cities was underlined by Andrea Halmos, European Commission, DG CONNECT, in her digital keynote. In her opinion, a digital twin is the next stage of smart city management. In this context, a modern and at the same time digital smart city data management is indispensable on the way of the European Union (EU) to the targeted "Green Deal" and thus climate neutrality by 2050. At the same time, according to Halmos' remarks, many digital solutions are available in a fragmented and not very scalable way. Policy Officer Halmos sums up the consequence: "Only 12 percent of city data is used for policy decisions." To change this and put people more at the center of smart city processes, principles are needed. She summarizes these with, among other things, a citizen-centric design of upcoming digital processes. Other building blocks here include technological solutions and interoperable urban platforms as essential keys to the success of cities, but also soft factors. In this course, Halmos focuses on cities as open and at the same time living spaces. To accompany the digital journey in a unified way and with a clear strategy, diverse commitments are needed within the EU – from financial and technical aspects to education and monitoring and measuring the measures taken. Halmos went on to describe the potential of Artificial Intelligence(AI) deployment in cities.

This potential results, among other things, from shared workspaces (keyword: collaboration), environmental monitoring, and automated congestion, waste, and energy management.

In practical AI applications, the strengths can be seen, for example, in the Spanish city of Fuengirola. Locally, city officials plan to use AI applications to monitor the capacity of stands and other public spaces in real time. In addition to such short-term effects, Halmo says AI can add long-term value. This can be seen, for example, in urban planning and development, but also in infrastructure management and climate monitoring.

An Interdisciplinary Framework to Address Climate Change

Statements that echo those of Prof. Ursula Eicker, Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) in Smart, Sustainable and Resilient Cities and Communities, of Concordia University Montreal. When asked what makes a smart, sustainable and resilient city, Eicker sees climate neutrality as an important consideration. In addition, she believes there are factors such as biodiversity and waste reduction, as well as a compact yet walkable city. Eicker summarizes the most important challenges for today's cities as climate change and its consequences. These are called, among other things, increasing extreme weather events such as flooding and heat, but also access to food and water, and ultimately migration flows. To meet the challenges, cities must, for example, increasingly retrofit buildings to be climate-efficient and strive for radical change in transportation.

In Canada, the Green Municipal Fund (GMF) stands for such measures. The GMF helps cities and municipalities take action to reduce the impacts of climate change and provide Canadians with a better life.

Specific GMF work ranges from improving water quality to expanding recycling systems to creating energy-efficient transportation. The latter has been achieved with the help of a new system for sharing electric vehicles, among other things.

In all measures to achieve climate neutrality in cities, it is clear that smart data plays a crucial role in measuring actual conditions, driving analysis and, above all, implementing new solutions in cities. But this requires interdisciplinary thinking. Eicker calls it "an interdisciplinary framework for building next-generation cities." For example, she works with energy planners, designers, philosophers, biologists and civil engineers, among others, to develop integrated strategies for zero-emission cities of tomorrow.

Smart data management for smart cities moves researchers – worldwide

The fact that data management moves researchers around the world was evident at the SDSC event. More than 80 participants were present or connected – from Stuttgart to London, from Quebec to Sidney. Despite all the differences in the individual cities and countries with their specific challenges in terms of sustainable urban development, a clear commonality emerged among the researchers. A basic understanding of how to deal with data is needed in order to bring it together from various sources in a meaningful way and to be able to use it for urban projects. After all, city officials, planners and ultimately citizens want to be informed in order to use 3D city models and participation platforms, for example.

Against this background, one of the topics was "Smart Data – Sensor". The presentation of sensor registration in the smart city environment showed by way of example that the growing number of sensors, cameras and measuring devices on the one hand raises data protection issues to which cities must respond with transparency. On the other hand, the owners of the measuring devices and sensors need clarity about the reporting procedure of their installations. For the researchers, one possible key lies in a national sensor registry (SensRNet).

Such a registry would provide transparency to municipalities and citizens about the data collected by the devices and the purpose of the collection. In addition, the "SensRNet" would provide the opportunity to get an overview of where sensors are placed in public space and who the respective owner is.

Ultimately, this approach facilitates access to data that is in high demand so that it can be used for smart city projects, such as participation platforms or new mobility applications.

Speaking of mobility. The value of data-based application scenarios for e-scooters was conveyed by a presentation from the field of data mining (smart data – machine learning). That is, recognizing patterns in large amounts of data. Against the background of climate change, new mobility applications and concepts in cities are essential. To analyze usage patterns and behaviors of e-scooter sharing customers, researchers examined the data set of an e-scooter sharing provider from 2017 to 2019 in a major German city. For customer segmentation, they used the cross-industry standard process for data mining models (CRISP-DM model).

The results showed that three customer segments were identified – based on the variables age, time between trips, distance traveled and revenue. Among other things, it turned out that customers in clusters were responsible for 78 percent of revenue, with an average age of 29. Artificial intelligence (AI) applications provide noticeable support in such processes. After all, in smart cities, more and more data needs to be stored, processed and analyzed. This includes real-time data from transportation companies and energy suppliers, as well as sensor data from smartphones and air monitoring systems. With a view to the latter, one presentation dealt with AI-based prediction of air pollutants for smart cities.

There's more to it than that. Other sessions – from 3D data models to navigation solutions and visualization – rounded out the SDSC conference. Among the plethora of topics, one thing clearly crystallized: Science and research can provide valuable services for the cities of today and tomorrow, along with their challenges. Or to put it another way: All green in smart cities thanks to smart data. And in this, HFT Stuttgart plays a decisive role as a knowledge mediator from theory to the lived practice of cities.

Publish date: 15. October 2021 By Andreas Eicher ()