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Q&A: Eric Dresselhuys of Silver Spring Networks talks smart cities and the Internet of Things

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Eric Dresselhuys, co-founder and executive vice president of global development at Silver Spring Networks, strives to make the UK a better, more cost-efficient and connected place. His company produces smart grid products, with the aim of creating smart cities across the globe.

He spoke with Tech City News about the ins and outs of smart cities, what’s been done already in this area, what’s still to be done and why it is important.

Q: Hi Eric, so what exactly are smart cities?

Smart cities encompass a full spectrum of city systems, including transportation, energy, water, engaged citizens, health and safety, environmental sustainability, building management and so much more.

The associated applications and citizen services must seamlessly integrate, enabling the sharing of information between people and their city to deliver more efficient, prosperous and economically thriving communities.

A networking platform is required to facilitate this connectivity, allowing the entire city infrastructure to interact with the community and with itself by creating an Internet of Things connecting advanced IP meshing technology.

Q: Is this already happening?

Absolutely. And more importantly, we’re not just seeing pilots and proofs of concept, but scaled and mature deployments and programs happening in multiple cities here in the UK, as well as across five continents.

For example, Bristol is Open (BIO), a joint venture between Bristol University and the city council, is building a platform for the development of smart city applications that will promote innovation and deliver a better quality of life.

BIO is encouraging local entrepreneurs to connect new sensors and devices to Silver Spring’s IPv6 network, such as smart parking meters, traffic light and congestion sensors, safety cameras, air quality sensors, weather sensors, public transportation sensors, remote personal healthcare monitors, and acoustic detection.

By gathering and accessing data from sensors across the city, BIO can enable the development of Internet of Things and enable productivity services for citizens.

Finally, by leveraging sensor data and insights, these entrepreneurs and academic institutions can prototype new smart city applications and services and prepare for commercialization globally.

Q: Where else are pilots taking place?

Glasgow is integrating multiple city services on a common platform and gathering new data to help empower its citizens to improve the city by reducing energy costs, increasing road safety and promoting cycling to help drive health benefits.

A growing collection of data streams from more than 60 different organisations is being brought together in a central data warehouse. Developers can use this data to build new solutions to address city challenges.

Additionally, while monitoring vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian traffic, the intelligent street lights that are connected by Silver Spring’s IPv6 platform are programmed to automatically brighten and dim depending on ambient light levels, as well as by how many people are in a given area.

Q: What about further afield?

We are also connecting up large programs of street lights and traffic controls across Paris and Copenhagen to drive each city’s sustainability initiatives, and are connecting up the world’s largest networked street light program in Miami and South Florida to drive maintenance and restoration efficiencies, and improve customer service. Silver Spring also works in cities including Auckland, Baltimore, Chicago, Halifax, Sao Paulo and Washington D.C. to connect critical infrastructure.

Miami and Copenhagen are two additional forward-looking smart cities.

Copenhagen, which is aiming to be the first carbon-neutral capital by 2025, is deploying Silver Spring’s canopy network by embedding communication modules through modern street lights and intelligent traffic signals across the city.

In doing so, the city is creating a safer cycling network for the more than 50% of the city’s population that commutes to work.

Copenhagen continues to lead in developing cutting edge smart city innovations, and its investment in street lighting is a clear example of how a common network can serve as a foundation for those goals.

Similarly, Florida Power & Light, the largest electric utility in Florida and the third largest in the US, is working with Silver Spring to network the 500,000 street lights that it manages and operates, the world’s largest program of its kind.

By connecting the street lights to the network, Miami and other cities across South Florida will be able to more quickly identify outages and mobilize maintenance crews to get failed lamps restored more quickly.

Smart city

Q: Is London already a smart city?

London is certainly a leading voice in smart cities – Boris Bikes are genius and the Tube and National Rail systems move an immense number of people incredibly efficiently.

However, as Europe’s largest city, it faces some particular challenges in upgrading existing infrastructure and seamlessly integrating services. Indeed some of London’s 32 boroughs are themselves carving out leading positions in smart city strategy, such as Greenwich.

London has many flagship initiatives and continues to push the benefits of open data. The huge adoption, popularity and revenue generation of applications driven by TFL open data provide a global case study.

Q: Can startups play a part in this?

Absolutely! By creating an open, standards-based infrastructure, cities will light up local innovation from start-ups and citizens. Combining this open connectivity with open data will create new applications and value that we can’t even imagine today.

This is where our robust partner ecosystem comes into play. We are always looking for new partners that are developing the latest innovation across a broad range of devices and applications.

Q: Are governments playing ball? Are they innovation-focused?

Many leading governments are now allocating significant innovation funding to assist cities in accelerating smart city initiatives, including the UK and US.

The focus has rightly moved to enable lighthouse cities to prove solutions at scale and publish outcomes, enabling other cities to achieve benefits faster without the need to repeat lengthy trials.

Q: How much will smart cities improve sustainability?

This is a sustainability story, both in terms of environmental sustainability and the sustainability of cities and a viable, livable entity.

One example of aging infrastructure is streetlights, which can consume as much as 40% of a city’s energy budget. Once networked street lights are deployed, the cities can use the network to connect other critical infrastructure assets, including as traffic management, environmental sensors, smart parking, electric vehicle charging, electricity metering, and water conservation.

These programs all become faster, easier and less expensive to implement because the streetlights have been implemented, accelerating the sustainability of the community.

With networked LED street lighting, major cities around the world have lowered energy bills, saving up to 70% on energy costs in the new deployments.

Q: What are the security implications?

Security challenges will become more important as more and more devices are connected for the Internet of Things.

Compliance with standards is a necessity for IoT architectures, to ensure that consistency and manageability are not lost as the number of connected devices increases.

It’s for these reasons we advise cities and utility providers to choose a platform with proven processes and technology, effectively deployed in large-scale production environments, and that includes built-in, multi-layer security and that can demonstrate a track record of success against hostile threats. Aging infrastructure is a problem in nearly every city, and steps to modernize must be taken to drive energy and sustainability, efficiency and reliability, public health and safety and economic viability initiatives.

If a city has strained resources, it will struggle to remain competitive for future generations. Jobs flourish in regions where the quality of life is high.