12 May 2012 by Pelle Neroth
The ambitious idea - with significant British input - is to build Europe's most modern intelligent wired city, with smart sensors embedded in roads and walls and networked through the catchily named Urban Operating System.
It's a potentially big business opportunity for the project's partners, who include Formula One's McLaren Electronics - which puts intelligent sensors in its high speed racing cars; award-winning UK engineering firm Buro Happold; Hitachi Consulting and Phillips. One billion people are set to move into cities over the next 30 years.
The site for PlanIT Valley project is a eucalyptus tree-scented valley near Paredes. 30km from Porto, Portugal's second city, once a run down, if charming, industrial centre, now reinventing itself for the 21st century. Porto has a UNESCO-listed old harbour area painted in pastel colours and the cheapest beer west of Prague. But the city also links to several motorways and an international airport, and a local government which has given the PlanIT project special development status.
The 1700 hectare project, planned for 2015 in its 50m euro initial phase. is ultimately planned is to be a city of over 200,000.
What could be done in a city where many thousands of sensors are embedded iin buildings, in the roads. in lamp posts and in walls?
Cars would be directed to parking spaces. Smart lamp posts would increase their lighting levels when cars are coming. In smart buildings, air conditioning systems could switch themselves off when someone left the room. The Urban Operating system can fix leaky taps remotely - or if it can't, it will call the plumber.
Office buildings could listen in on meetings and alert users to similar conversations being held elsewhere in the building. The project's cofounder, Steve Lewis, who used to be a development manager at Microsoft, says corporations buy into different packages that analyse the enormous amount of data from the smart city in the way Iphone users buy"apps".
Living PlanIT - the company behind PlanIT valley - also plans to introduce IT into the construction phase, thereby cutting out the waste prevalent at many building sites. Applying the tech industry model to construction could cut costs by 50% and make some jobs like quantity surveying and construction management redundant. The construction industry is notoriously IT resistant.
Some issues raise their head. Other cities are exploring crowdsourcing alternatives. Drivers' vibration sensitive smartphones could detect potholes and sending the information to City Hall. There is a pilot project in Boston. The website SeeClickFix. which allows people to report on local infrastructure faults, with a facebook "like" tally determining the most urgent repair, is another low cost idea. The Iphone has eight sensors, and millions carry them around. These options certainly help build the community spirit - and city chiefs don't have to bet the bank on them..
PlanIT Valley will have a science park, and hopes to be an innovation hub, as well as a wired up community, but this raises other questions. Can you build truly a city that generates spontaneity, creativity, and innovation in a top down electronic fashion? Well, let us hope you can. The team behind Living PlanIT are also working on a project in London's East End ahead of the Olympics as a showcase for what they hope to do on a larger scale in Portugal.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 12 May 2012 02:10 PM General
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