What does "smart" actually mean?

By Veronica Skiba - December 01, 2016

We are lucky to live in a world with almost unlimited access to information, communication and transport. The amount of available data is so huge that we’re unable to consume it without advanced data-gathering and processing capabilities. This applies to everyone from insurance companies to cities and other businesses and organisations. 

But every day we hear news about smart phones, smart cars, smart homes or even entire smart cities. What does "smart" actually mean?

Many of the solutions we see within the world of the Internet of Things tend to focus on hardware, or niche development applications. As valid as many of these applications may be, we firmly believe that a truly smart solution should focus on solving real human problems, making a positive difference to people’s lives. This same thinking also underpins our work in the insurance market – it’s about converting unknowns into knowns. Data is being made available through sensors and connected devices and our platform is helping to bring this information to life, allowing insurers, smart cities and other organisations to access it.

Concirrus is a member of a consortium of 30 companies building smart city capabilities in London as part of the H2020 Sharing Cities Program. The core values of this program state that every smart solution should solve problems in at least one of three areas:

- social

- environmental

- economical

 Below are some examples of how we are making London smarter in some of these areas.

Improving air quality.

By gathering data from air quality sensors mounted in diverse locations (lamp posts, public vehicles, etc) and harmonising that data with measurements from other devices, we will be able to build up a significant picture of air quality in London. In the near future, this will allow us to determine not only the level of air pollution in a particular zone, but also the precise source of that pollution. Ultimately, it will allow us to address and reduce the causes.  

Access to reliable information will enable policy makers to make better decisions in removing pollution ‘hot spots’. It will also support effective urban planning. Groups of people suffering negative health effects from poor air quality will benefit from these improvements. Through careful measurement of air quality and by correlating it with outputs from other data sources, city managers will be able to identify and mitigate major causes of pollution.

As a consortium, we are exploring new applications of data processing and predictive analytics to build fundamentals for other organisations to enable them to create their own products. For example, we are looking at smartphone apps which will help provide citizens with real-time information about air pollution in an area where they live or where they are planning to live, thus supporting their decisions while buying property or choosing a place to live.

Improving traffic.

To improve traffic, we need to understand the rhythm of the city. Movement sensors with the ability to differentiate vehicles will provide us with data about cars, buses and bikes on our roads as well as pedestrian footfall. What’s more, we will be able to consider this information within the context of the time of day, festivals and holidays or other events happening around the city. Through initiatives such as intelligent parking systems, we will improve not only driving experiences and commute times, but also air quality as cars spend less time searching and waiting for free parking spaces.

The data is processed and analysed using the Urban Sharing Platform – something that will also create an environment for other software companies to create their own solutions for citizens. Apps and entire services will eventually be built to help people travel around town.

Revolutionising operational models 

By gathering data from sensors, devices and other data sources, we can start to detect macro patterns within a city’s daily routine and improve infrastructure systems as a result. From energy consumption to water or gas leaks, sub-optimal systems can start to be made more effective. Large commercial buildings and estates can be managed more effectively, with energy consumption being reduced to what’s necessary and waste being reduced.

This will also change the way we think about other services, such as insurance. With advanced warning systems and intelligent systems ultimately reducing the risk of downtime, failure or damage to our assets, policies can be adjusted accordingly. Indeed, organisations that insure a city’s assets could revolutionise the role that they play within our lives, becoming assurers that provide guarantees around safety, functionality and uptime.

The Internet of Things is about more than just fancy devices like smart fridges that orders food. It’s about improving people’s daily lives, making them safer, healthier and more empowered. This is what it means to be smart.


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