How to build a future-ready city

March 3, 2023
Axis recently sponsored the new research program, Building a Future-Ready City from ThoughtLab, a global research firm operating at the intersection of technology, business and government. It’s a subject close to our hearts. With the world’s cities looking to continue their transformation into vibrant, safe, and healthy places to live – particularly as citizens return post-pandemic – we know that Axis technologies can play a central role in helping them achieve their goals. Indeed, it’s interesting to see how the findings from the research align with the trajectory of our own technology and solutions over recent years. Here we dig into some of the insights.

Future-ready cities are those which are citizen-centric, with a clear vision and strategy, particularly in relation to their innovative use of technology and data. The ThoughtLab research brings together two important perspectives on the subject of building a future-ready city: city leaders and citizens. By benchmarking 200 cities around the globe, and speaking to key decision makers within them, the study gives us insights into the initiatives that are best aligned with preparing for the future needs of urban communities and highlight how urban leaders are building the foundation for future readiness. The study also surveyed 2,000 citizens from 20 of those cities, looking at their own expectations of urban life, particularly following the pandemic.

The need for safety and security, effective transportation and mobility, and a greater emphasis on the environment and sustainability all ranked highly within both audiences. As we delve into the findings, it’s striking how many of those focus areas and initiatives align with the journey Axis has been on over recent years, and for which our portfolio of solutions – and those of our partners – are ideally suited.

A future-ready city is making best use of data

It’s clear from the research that future-ready cities are those that are both driving digital transformation - an attribute of 77% of future-ready cities against 47% of others - and also those that are using data effectively for decision-making - 75% vs 40%. Digital technologies and data are fundamental to preparing for the future needs of citizens and goals of city decision makers.

The study went on to highlight the key drivers of change in future-ready cities. The top-ranking ones being:

  1. Collaboration and partnerships, particularly with technology companies
  2. Digital innovation
  3. Use of emerging technologies, including: AI (89%), data analytics (84%), digital twins (54%), and edge technologies (50%)

Those who already know Axis will immediately recognize the close alignment between these drivers and our own organization.

A fundamental part of our company’s DNA is partnership. Whether with application developers, systems integrators, channel partners, city authorities or customers across all sectors, we’ve recognized from the beginning that the most effective way to innovate for a smarter, safer world is through partnership. Indeed, we even talk about our business as being powered by partnership.

If partnership is in our DNA, then technology innovation is our lifeblood. For decades we have invested in our own system-on-chip (SoC), ARTPEC, which now in its 8th iteration includes deep learning capabilities and enhanced cybersecurity. This forms the basis for intelligent analytics at the edge of the network, in our cameras themselves.

Today, Axis cameras with our latest SoC technologies are transformed from traditional security surveillance devices to advanced visual sensors offering value to a variety of stakeholders. The data (and metadata) generated from these advanced sensors can be integrated with data from other sensors and IoT devices to bring even more insight to city administrators.

So, while the technology clearly exists that can be applied to the goals of cities and the expectations of those who live in them, what do these communities see as their main priorities?

Aligning views of cities and citizens

The ThoughtLab study found that another key attribute of future-ready cities is that they respond to the needs of their citizens: 73% of those cities already regarded as being future-ready have adapted to the expectations of citizens, versus only 38% of other cities. A positive alignment between cities and citizens was revealed in the study, showing that both groups are prioritizing addressing climate change and pollution as their top concern over the next five years.

Urban environments have long been plagued by poor air quality and noise pollution, causing serious health concerns. However, with increasing awareness and understanding of these issues, there is now a growing sense of urgency to address them.

To address these problems, environmental sensors, such as those used to measure air quality, can be employed alongside video surveillance to detect issues early and take corrective action. Data gathered from these sensors can also be analyzed to plan long-term initiatives aimed at reducing the impact of pollution and noise, resulting in an overall improvement of a city's environmental health.

Video surveillance can also show that waste is being collected and managed in accordance with local regulations, as well as monitoring for and deterring illegal dumping, vandalism and even littering, all of which have a negative impact on a city’s environment.

While looking to reverse climate change is the long-term aim, cities need to manage the realities of today. Environmental and weather monitoring sensors give city authorities the time to prepare for severe weather, video surveillance can monitor both the weather conditions and movement of a city’s population, and connected technology such as audio can be used to relay live and pre-recorded warnings and instructions to keep people safe. In the aftermath of natural disasters, video surveillance can also be of great help with rescue and relief operations.

Making cities safe

As might be expected, also ranking highly amongst both groups in the ThoughtLab study was crime and public safety. Addressing this is an attribute of 68% of future-ready cities.

Clearly safety and security has been an area of focus for Axis throughout our history, but the capabilities of today’s surveillance solutions make this more effective than ever before.  More advanced analytics and object recognition, smart search capabilities to aid post-incident investigation, body worn cameras, and combinations of video, thermal, and radar sensors all support city authorities and law enforcement organizations in keeping a city’s streets safe.

The changing nature of urban transportation

The study also highlighted expectations among citizens that link health and the environment with urban transportation and mobility. “Healthier ways to live in my city”, “environmentally friendly transportation”, “less congestion”, and “more action to protect the environment” all ranked highly in the expectations of citizens, while addressing traffic congestion was highlighted as one of the top challenges by city officials.

In addition to being a huge frustration for citizens, traffic congestion is one of the main contributors to pollution and poor air quality in cities. As previously mentioned, environmental sensors can alert authorities to the build up of pollution, with video surveillance used to verify the cause. Remedial action can then be taken whether responding to incidents or re-routing traffic to alleviate congestion.

Citizens are also making the switch to more environmentally friendly modes of transportation. The more accurate object recognition in today’s surveillance cameras allows city planners to better understand the changing nature of urban transportation, identifying long-term trends that can inform decisions around transportation infrastructure.

This use of data by urban planners has also given rise to the use of ‘digital twins’ to devise and test new ideas within urban environments. As an exact digital replica of a city, using real data captured by different types of sensors, a digital twin gives planners the chance to test the effect and impact of changes to a city’s infrastructure before implementation in the real world.

A concerning disconnect on cybersecurity

While the ThoughtLab study highlighted many of the positive attributes of a future-ready city, it also found a concerning disconnect between urban leaders’ perceptions of their cybersecurity readiness, and those of citizens. 7 out of 10 city officials feel that they are well-prepared for cyberattacks, compared to just 34% of citizens.

It can be argued that this suggests a worrying complacency amongst urban leaders, as data would suggest that cyberattacks against essential services in cities are becoming more frequent, more severe, and more successful.

With the growth in the use of technology in cities – and even more the increasing connectedness of this technology – it’s essential that city authorities take the issue of cybersecurity seriously. From our perspective, cybersecurity has long been a focus, and we’re determined to help our customers ensure that network surveillance cameras don’t become a weak point in the cybersecurity chain. Our ARTPEC SoC enhances security at the silicon level, while best practices ensure that vulnerabilities are quickly addressed and minimized.

An expanding role for Axis in future-ready cities

Around two-thirds of respondents in the survey felt that living and working in cities will increase over the coming years. As citizens gravitate back towards cities following the pandemic, the need to focus on liveability will be more critical than ever.

It’s clear from the ThoughtLab study that the foundation of a future-ready city is the smarter application of technology and the use of data and analysis to make decisions that will drive improvements.

ThoughtLab’s research focused on how to build a future-ready city. Axis has been creating the future-ready solutions that align with these priorities for years, and we will continue to do so.

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