Why the cities of the future need to think smart

by Kulraj Smagh, Director, Advanced Tech Group, EY

The future of urban transport

Traffic congestion is already a major problem in large cities and with urban populations expected to grow throughout this century, it is only going to get worse. On average, an individually owned car is in use only about 7% of the time. New technology is making it easier for car manufacturers and their ecosystem to provide more diverse, efficient and effective mobility solutions. These range from shared ownership and mobility as a service to multi-modal cross platform solutions.

For example, our new integrated mobility platform, Tesseract, uses blockchain technology to realise several use cases such as fractional ownership. Tesseract makes use of a commercially profitable solution and technically scalable platform, while increasing choice for consumers and generating new revenues for car makers and retailers.

Once autonomous cars come into use, the trend away from private ownership and towards mobility as a service is expected to accelerate. And to those who believe self-driving cars are still closer to science fiction than reality, the UK’s autumn Budget included an announcement for sweeping regulatory reform to clear the way for driverless cars to operate on UK roads from 2021.

The future of urban transport can look like a very exciting and simultaneously scary place to be, with the likes of Elon Musk pushing ahead with Hyperloop, a 1200km/h intercity express tube, and the emergence of more and more companies looking at flying cars or, to use the official term, Urban Aerial Mobility Vehicles (UAMVs).

Looking beyond the linear

But change is not linear and all those involved – from private companies to city governors – will need to look beyond immediate impacts. Investing in the future is key to surviving it. Delivering the high-end user experience consumers have become accustomed to through the use of ubiquitous digital platforms is now becoming a baseline. But the platforms did not do this overnight – sustained investment ‘down the J-Curve’ and timing it right to coincide with proliferation of other technologies has been key to the success of the most valued entities of our age.

We are at the cusp of several ‘Guttenberg Press’ moments combined, that will redefine how we live, where we live and how we make our living. Cities need to play an active part in collaborating with the private sector and citizens to catch this wave of new technologies and enable the prosperity of enterprises and citizens, while at the same time remaining relevant and attractive to investment and entrepreneurship.

What are the other consequences of these technologies? Will autonomous cars, which use algorithms to determine the best route, still drive past the shops? How will this impact property prices and retail zones? Will augmented reality (AR) goggles – if and when they become mainstream – force marketing spend to switch from live to AR? Who will own the governance of putting up an AR ad on city real estate? And will all shops be virtual?
These are just a few examples of how technology will change the face of cities in unpredictable ways. The smart cities of tomorrow will be those flexible enough to think ahead, explore, experiment and remain agile.

Realising the benefits

The benefits of new technology for cities remain huge. Rail tracks and other vital infrastructure could see much higher levels of safety at reduced costs as a combination of sensors, drones and algorithms help to accurately predict faults and plan maintenance accordingly. Automatic sampling of sewage systems is already being trialled as a way to highlight city-wide health issues and spot outbreaks of diseases.

It is estimated that by 2050, 80% of elderly people in developed countries will live in cities. Smart electricity meters open up new ways to protect the elderly and vulnerable by flagging up changes to their regular patterns of behaviour and triggering help.

We are already seeing retailers being able to target individual shoppers as they pass by shops, sending personalised, real-time offers to their smartphones. Technology may yet offer beleaguered high street retailers new tools to fight back against online retailers, perhaps making use of the new AR and mixed reality platforms in the war for consumers, with cities having a huge part to play in the outcome.

Shaping the social and ethical city

With automated machines looking increasingly likely to take over many low skilled jobs, and the greatest benefits of technological disruption set to be enjoyed by those who can afford the latest tech, inequality and polarisation will become key challenges in the future. Local councils and municipalities should be actively working with and engaging technology platforms to mitigate the risks of creating two-tier societies in urban centres. Cities which use data to provide services will also need to protect it.

And we are only at the beginning of this process. As what has been named the fourth industrial revolution gathers pace, the number of connected devices is predicted to rise from its current nine billion to one trillion in 2030.

As AI/machine learning plays an increasingly important role in cities, making sure that the choices and behaviours of AI-driven devices and programmes are in line with the community’s ethics and values will be a key issue, alongside data ethics, which EY has been working hard with its clients to address.

So, to summarise, while the benefits of new technology to individuals, cities and companies will be significant, the disruptive nature of change means there will be challenges as well. Most likely the eventual outcome will be neither a utopia or dystopian, but somewhere in between. The outcome will, however, remain the responsibility of those crafting it.

Working together for smarter cities

This requires both strong leadership and great co-operation. Which is one of the reasons we are proud to be part of the Smart Cities Council (SCC), the world’s largest smart cities network, which helps cities harness innovation to stay vital and safe for their citizens and businesses.

To find out more visit http://www.ey.com/gl/en/newsroom/news-releases/news-ey-joins-smart-cities-council-to-advance-smart-city-innovation.

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