The move toward smart cities promises to bring greater automation, intelligent routing, better monitoring and city management. Our Managing Editor Prof Arup Dasgupta caught up with senior executives of two of the major geospatial companies working in this field – Mladen Stojic, President, Hexagon Geospatial, & Chris Gibson, Vice President, Trimble. Excerpts from the conversation…
How do you see the role of geospatial technologies in smart cities?
Mladen Stojic: Geospatial technology provides a platform on which solutions can be built and ultimately delivered to support a whole host of smart city initiatives ranging from smart safety to smart infrastructure to smart planning. Geospatial technology provides the underlying foundation and ultimately the fabric upon which solutions can be built. Here we are talking about the idea of what is smart, the idea of connecting sensors with software and streamlining those together with enterprise workflows around a given solution.
Chris Gibson: Geospatial technology is really the heart of a smart city ecosystem. No matter what application you are building around it and what initiative you want out of a smart city — be it transportation, healthcare, education, planning the land management — geospatial is the core of providing that capability. Geospatial has evolved from being just a coordinate system into getting embedded into workflows and helping a city make better decisions.
A city always keeps growing. How does geospatial technology take care of this kind of expansion in terms of both spatial and vertical expansion?
MS: At Hexagon, our motto is helping shape smart change. And that certainly is very applicable to cities in which we see a demographic shift from rural areas to urban centers. And at the heart of that is location. Everything on the Earth’s surface has a location, and we can assign and associate multi-dimensional information to that location for driving better and smarter decisions. So, from a policy perspective, we believe that geospatial technologies provide the necessary framework for collecting the data and transforming observations to help facilitate software-based solutions around smart city infrastructure.
In smart cities, you have a lot of stress on the infrastructure, and that kind of infrastructure development needs constant monitoring. How can geospatial play a role in that?
CG: If you take the entire lifecycle of any infrastructure asset, whilst 30-40% of the cost is in the upfront construction phase, 60-70% is in the operate and maintain stages. The geospatial context can be used from the design perspective, whether it is from an architect, if building an airport or station, or on the civil engineering side through the construction process. And we see that the utilization of geospatial capabilities into the construction process will reduce the cost of the project by 20-30%. So, a city can do more with less over a period of time. And when you continue to use that geospatial information as you get into operate and maintain, you have that 3D built model of the infrastructure asset and then you can utilize that model for maintenance phase. So, I see over the lifecycle of about 30, 40 or 50 years you can drive significant efficiencies in the lifecycle of the asset for utilizing geospatial information.
Talking about workflows, do you think something like enterprise resource planning [ERP] is also required?
MS: Not just ERP, but the whole idea of a smart city is to connect these departmental silos of databases and business systems, and connecting them with some interoperability platform. And once again, the lowest common denominator in all this is location. There is a whole host of information that has location in it and we have to basically tie these systems together in order to help drive and facilitate smart city applications. So, it is not just about GIS or BIM or some of the traditional genres that we have all come to know and love, but it is really tying information and IT together. And GIS just happens to be one of those information technologies.
Is GIS one of those technologies or it is the core technology?
MS: I don’t think it is a core technology. We use the word GIS very casually, but GIS is a business system within a smart city. It is not the core system. You can argue that CAD is the core or BIM is the core. Everyone has a preference on what they think is the core. I don’t think either of them is the core. The core is the information that could be tied to location. I think location information is the core and that location information resides in multiple databases. What makes it smart is when we connecting these databases together and start building solutions against these databases. And it gets really interesting when you start connecting dynamic sensor feeds for monitoring infrastructure dynamics in the fields for traffic, security video cameras, sensor feeds below asphalt, below sidewalks, etc.
CG: I think we get too worried about what is GIS. Rather, our focus should be on the problem we are trying to solve, what outcomes we are trying to drive at and how do we make that happen. One of the keys to success of a smart city is going to be collaboration across departments and databases. How do you open that data so that everybody is accessing the same data and the same level of information and attributes in there. They may need a portion of that information to drive the outcome they are trying to but having open collaboration will enable the benefits to the citizens and the overall running of the city. So, it is more about the integrated workflow that makes success and the role of system integrators will be to make that happen, to move that data from one area to other, to drive the outcome that we are trying to drive or that the city wants to drive at the end of the day.
You mentioned sensors and we are talking about cities, and cities are populated with citizens. Now citizens can also act as sensors. How do we integrate this?
MS: Citizen engagement and crowdsourcing are really taking off. We have seen the city of New York take very aggressive steps toward engaging the tax-paying public to participate in collecting data and uploading information about everything, such as, potholes, road infrastructure etc. Citizen engagement is critical because human sensors have the ability to see and then translate what they see into information.
CG: I totally agree that the engagement of citizens is critical. The success of a city will come down to the engagement of citizens and a two-way flow of information. You can look at numerous examples around the world where cities are utilizing their citizens as sensors to crowdsource information, be it for road condition, street lighting, crowd control and even in case of disaster management situations. And the citizens see some benefit from the fact that they are providing that information. If you have a big pothole in your road, you take a picture of that and upload it. Within an X number of hours, there is a repair maintenance team that comes to fix your problem. That starts to build that relationship between the city and the citizen. To me, that is critical for the success of a smart city.