Smart City Backbone

Smart Cities are undeniably the way of the future. Despite many bloggers reporting on recent demotivation and Smart City hype meltdown, the evolution and convergence of different technologies is unstoppable. Even though the necessary technologies are already available, there is a big lack of organization, much role confusion and a surprisingly long list of Smart City specialists with no tangible references. As a consequence, no one has yet provided a complete and overall conceptual view.

Cleverdist is jumping right in the middle of the Smart City arena. At Cleverdist we have successfully designed, developed and commissioned the largest intelligent control systems involving automation based on highly complex process control and the biggest distributed systems. From this privileged point of view, we have identified two major problems in this field and we are currently trying to address them in select municipalities.

Firstly, there is an important technological gap between two of the major actors in the Smart City Arena: the classical industrial automation engineer on the one side, and the urban specialist on the other. There is truly nothing bringing these two worlds together. Classical automation engineers have spent decades developing the control systems for our city infrastructures and services. However, they have never been involved in systems integrating millions of parameters and using complex computer-based process control to take automated decisions in large physical systems. These highly skilled and essential people operate in different and completely disconnected domain from that of the urban developers & researchers. Yes, there is also a vast list of web 2.0 gurus, Cloud specialists, Grid experts, IoT evangelists, phone app. developers, media, etc. offering their own solutions (many extremely ingenious) to solve particular urban problems… but they are lacking experience in the industrial control area and their proposals are failing when they need to interface with the city infrastructure.

It is obvious to all of us that a Smart City needs to connect to its users, infrastructures and services, and use information from some of them to take actions on others. However, the few of us that have built very large intelligent systems, know that this cannot be done heterogeneously by each of the possible sub-systems (or applications); we know that it needs to be done in a homogenous, coherent and industrial-like way. There is a good bunch of us who have already experienced in this type of development, and there are living operating references, state-of-the-art industrial-like infrastructures hosting intelligent applications monitoring and controlling very large systems in a homogenous, coherent, maintainable and upgradable way. These are exactly the people that can fill that technological gap.

 

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The second identified problem is a consequence of the missing expertise and the existing knowledge gap. Picture it in this simple, elegant and enlightening way: imagine a city like a human being. It has its different services (organs) distributed over the body. Then you have a brain that is in charge of taking certain decisions across systems and coordinating actions. What we are mostly trying to achieve today is to connect these city systems to a brain so that it can take intelligent decisions based on shared information. Now think about the following: how does a human brain connect to its services? Yes, therein lies the solution to the second major problem. Millions of years of evolution are telling us what we are missing. What we need is a solid backbone for our Smart Cities. Cleverdist is bringing exactly this concept to the arena.  Let us put aside that pseudo-fact that says that we need to prove today (or abandon immediately) the benefits of Smart Cities, as these benefits will be the result of an urban R&D that can only be performed with the needed infrastructure. What we should be doing is putting the engineering effort towards providing the best Smart City Backbone possible- one which allows municipalities to plug-in any interesting urban R&D proposal with the minimal effort.  In summary, we need to create an infrastructure where the urban researcher/developer can transparently access all the needed information and interact with the city, without having to bother about low level technicalities, and focus on finding the best ways to improve our (citizens) quality of life. Stay tuned here for more developments.

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