Reflections on Smart City Expo World Congress 2017

Andrea Sorri

Following a highly successful event, I wanted to share my thoughts and experiences from Smart City World Expo 2017.

The growth and momentum of any industry or sector can often be judged by the increasing interest and attendance at the key exhibitions and conferences. This certainly seemed to be the case in Barcelona, where the recent Smart City Expo World Congress seemed to attract not only more people than ever, but those from a broader set of organizational functions.

What is a smart city?

Ironically, one of my key thoughts having attended the event, was that there’s a lack of a clear and consistent definition of what a smart city is. Government and cities around the world spend billions to create their vision of a smart city. But if you ask various stakeholders about what a smart city really is, you will soon discover that there are many different views. There is no short definition of a smart city, and to make the topic more tangible, I prefer to look at some of the key objectives most smart city projects are designed to achieve:

  • Efficiency of services – to ensure efficient use of public resources and a high level of citizen service.
  • Sustainability – to grow & develop the city with strong consideration to environmental impact.
  • Mobility – to make it easy for citizens, workers and visitors to move around in the city, whether by foot, bike, car, public transport etc. (regardless of transportation means).
  • Safety & security – to ensure public safety & security in every-day life and at special events, as well as being best possibly prepared for emergencies and disasters.
  • Economic growth – to attract businesses, investors, citizens and visitors.
  • City reputation – to constantly improve the city’s image & reputation.

Successful smart city projects, regardless of their core objectives, will help cities get closer to their ultimate goal of improving the overall quality of life, or in smart city terms, “livability”.

New places and faces

Clearly, having a smart city is seen as something to be proud of, and is now becoming an essential part of any city’s reputation globally. Many countries and cities were exhibiting and demonstrating how they are implementing smart city solutions – with a focus on improving public safety and making their cities resilient. Dubai, for example, had a very interesting demo of a robot police that are patrolling some of the busy areas of Dubai. Since last summer, citizens and visitors can talk to the robots and use their touchscreen to instantly report crimes. I also gave a talk at the event, where I highlighted Project Green Light in Detroit, a successful public / private partnership to reduce crime, improve neighborhood safety and promote the growth of local businesses. You can read more about this exciting project in my recent blog post.

I was also excited to see a new group among the usual attendees of IT, security, consultants, system integrators and partners. Smart city-specific roles, such as Smart City Manager or Smart City Project Manager, were also part of the audience, again another sign that the importance of smart cities is a growing focus across the globe.

Trends and topics

Predictive analytics was a hot topic, especially around crime and disaster prevention. On the Axis booth, we were asked a lot about our solutions for sound detection and drone detection, as well as facial recognition and traffic control. These technologies help to support law enforcement and infrastructure personnel, freeing up some of the resource currently sucked up by logistics and problem identification.

We were keen to focus less on specific products, and more on integrated solutions against specific needs. This meant close cooperation with our partners, and it was great to see Axis cameras being showcased in several booths outside our own. Axis and partners help cities around the world in their ambitions to become safer & more secure, and to improve their traffic situation (mobility). Connected video solutions enable authorities to quickly react to, respond to and resolve incidents that occur. Solutions that attracted significant attention from visitors included:

  • Sound detection, drone detection and facial recognition to automatically detect and alert for potential threats or incidents.
  • Automatic incident detection to give traffic management quick alerts for traffic incidents
  • Real-time incident management solutions to ensure optimized response and efficient evidence collection

A more connected future

Another trend from the event was the desire to move away from silos and instead provide an increasingly collaborative approach to running a smart city, with more structured data and resource sharing. This cross-silo cooperation, supported by IT platforms, allows for connectivity, shared IoT devices and sensors for the efficient sharing of data and information between relevant stakeholders.

The use of cameras is one example of this. A city might have hundreds of cameras for traffic management, hundreds of cameras for surveillance, hundreds of cameras within retailers, hundreds more at stadiums, but the data stays within each of these silos. From discussions at the expo, it is highly probable that in the near future, there will be many of examples where data from cameras and other connected devices provide various stakeholders in a city with a clear, real-time view when something has, or is about to happen.

If I look forward to next year’s event, I think this is where we’ll see significant progress: increases in efficiency and effectiveness through sharing of data and information across city silos. I’m looking forward to it already.

Are you interested in other trends we have seen this year? See more in our Review of 2017 security technology trends.