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Professor John Davies

Head of Smart Cities and IoT research, BT

By taking a holistic approach to smart technology, cities can do more with less, in a sustainable way.

How can the Internet of Things (IoT) benefit cities?

Emerging network solutions are making it feasible to have vast numbers of sensors in the urban environment — on bus stops, street lamps and so forth — collecting all kinds of valuable data, such as transport numbers, air quality, health, etc. So, for instance, by combining air quality data with traffic data, authorities can know the level of congestion that triggers an air quality problem and put controls in place to stop it. Basically, by using smart technology, cities can do more with less, and in a sustainable way.

How do you see smart cities developing?

We’re seeing a trend towards a more holistic approach. So rather than installing a series of siloed tech solutions — such as smart lighting or smart parking — a single infrastructure will work for the city as a whole. This means that data collected from all kinds of sensors goes onto a central, secure data exchange to be used in new and interesting ways. We’re also seeing the notion of ‘smart places’ beginning to evolve.

What are ‘smart places’?

Environments — not just cities — where IoT technologies can be deployed, such as factories, farms and rural areas. Some IoT technologies that were originally developed for cities are easily transferred into smart places.

What are the next steps for IoT?

I think we’ll see more ‘actuation’ — or the ability to act on data automatically. Take increased automation. We’re working on a project to develop the world’s first carbon neutral, fully automated soft fruit farm, with a fleet of robots that will be able to spray and pick strawberries, and put them in pallets ready for the haulier, with zero manual intervention. The robots will be able to self-detect when their batteries are low and take themselves off to be recharged.

What would your ideal smart city and smart place look like in the future?

They’ll be more attractive places to work and live and they’ll also be more efficient and environmentally sustainable.

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