Can COVID recovery deliver clean, equitable and Smarter Cities?

For over a century, humans have come to associate more cars, more machines and more industry in motion as a signal of economic progress. In the past decade, the increase of Mobility as a service (MaaS) has played a huge role in driving both economic and social progression.

But what happens when it stops?

COVID 19 brought cities and mobility across the globe to an abrupt stop. Now, as we cautiously move to “the newest normal”, we have come to recognise that not only does mobility lie at the core of economic stability, but it plays a major role in our daily social, communal and economic life.

So how do we keep moving safely?

Re-building commuter trust is central to current MaaS rebuilding and investment decisions. As Eurocities, secretary general Anna Lisa Boni puts it: “The crisis has boosted the use and development of digital tools in cities, especially in public services,” she says. “At the same time, it made clear that digital is not just about IT infrastructure but also about organisational and civic maturity, transparent data usage and trust. And we have seen the discriminatory effects of the digital divide in terms of access to the internet and skills. Stretched city budgets will now focus both on smart-city investments and the fight for digital inclusion to make society more resilient.”

Current Smart City mobility innovations designed to build trust and re-cast the way we move across cities currently include:

  • Disinfectant drones are being used across the globe to spray COVID killing disinfectant in sporting stadiums, playgrounds and dining streets. Of course, the introduction of smart city data can help guide drones to hot spots pre or post pedestrian or commuter congestion.
  • Singapore has increased their FY2020 ICT spend to accelerate digitalisation and support businesses. Part of this spend includes a focus on use of data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and sensors within the public sector. One of the smallest and most unusual investments they have made is a robotic dog that roams the city streets encouraging social distancing. The robotic dog is also a data-gathering tool to identify hot spots and peak crowd times.
  • The need for sudden regional lockdowns can increase the likelihood of congestion as roads are closed and traffic diverted. Singapore is also leading the world in relation to congestion management with demand-based road pricing, offering financial incentives to drivers to avoid peak rush hours.
  • The Internet of Things and machine learning can be used together to monitor traffic and transportation, environmental and atmospheric data, as well as social activity. Monitoring technologies could even support social distancing in real-time – for example an AI surveillance system in Dubai that reads licence plates, that was originally designed to reduce crime and traffic accidents, has been adapted to identify citizens leaving their homes without authorisation during lockdown.
  • In terms of public transport, there are changes already being made to shared vehicles. The company Zeelo has developed buses that are fitted with air-filtration systems, a wet fogging system which claims to clean 99 per cent of air particles, and provide a social-distancing and contact-tracing app.
  • Within 5 years, the greater use of MaaS electric autonomous technologies like electric robo-taxis and other passenger services could prove a viable alternative for travellers hesitant to share an enclosed vehicle. The $75 billion invested in the development of autonomous cars by 2023, could lead to more sophisticated and reliable solutions.
  • As workers cautiously return to the office, parking spots fitted with sensors and beacons can be central tools in keeping employees safe. Company leaders are starting to build wellness-monitored offices using integrated workplace management systems (IWMS) and resource scheduling applications (RSAs) that use artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT), including motion sensors and beacons. This data can be used in real time to remind employees to adhere to social distancing rules, or indeed to work from home, based on their whereabouts and health of their colleagues.
  • Smart City technology solutions help reduce physical contact to a minimum. Routine procedures like gate check-ins and paperwork signing can move to the cloud via a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution. This is important for both commercial and consumer mobility. For commercial trucking and shipping, real-time transportation visibility platforms flag shipments carrying essential goods so staff can already prepare with protective gear, such as face masks, and be in place to retrieve or offload quickly.
  • For consumers, commercial parking operators and Councils who offer contactless parking experiences to consumers at numerous touchpoints (entry, exit, on-street and payments) can address virus nervousness without consumers even rolling down their windows. Payment options such as pay-by-mobile apps, online transactions, contactless bank cards, and NFC-enabled transactions both minimise contact points and reduce queuing time. Proactive alerts are an essential part of Smart City mobility solutions – trust will only be built if the experience is seamless.
  • Food and parcel delivery now rely on proactive alert technology. Tracking technology enables consumer to see when a delivery is approaching their home, the driver sends a picture of the package on the doorstep, the customer confirms receipt, and the delivery process completes without physical contact.

This level of trust in contactless technology, data collation and AI must be built to boost safe, fair and clean mobility solutions for a return to economic and social prosperity.

 

About the Author

Jason Marks is Business Development Manager DCA Cities and has passion for technology and its varied insights. Jason’s ability to understand smart parking technology objectives and align peoples thinking sees him delivering the best technology solutions to his growing customer base.

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