“Europe took an interest in Smart Cities before anyone else did”

By July 07, 2015
Keywords : Smart city, America, IoT, Asia, EMEA
Arvind Satyam

Second part of our interview with Arvind Satyam, Managing Director for Global Business Development at CISCO Systems Industry Solutions Group, who manages the global business development team for Cisco’s ‘Internet of Everything’ initiative for Cities and works with local authorities to help them adopt Internet of Things technology for all their activities.

In the first part of the interview, Arvind Satyam stressed the importance of mobility and transport issues for the Smart City. In the second section, he expounds on issues around healthcare, citizen engagement and the place of drones in the cities of tomorrow.

[Re-read first part of the interview] 

L’Atelier: You’ve already talked about the role that the IoT can play in urban mobility. What other areas do you think are likely to be shaken up in the cities of the future?

Arvind Satyam: Well, the Internet of Things will enable citizens to obtain a better knowledge of the things going on around them and so the healthcare field is going to see some fundamental changes. We’ve been working with Jay S. Walker, the guy who launched TEDMED. He has an interesting analogy: when you’re at the wheel of your car, the dashboard informs you of your speed, fuel and oil levels and so on. However, there is as yet no dashboard in existence to inform you about your state of health. Most people are content just to weigh themselves from time to time, and the lucky ones are entitled to an annual check-up. You go to the hospital only when an illness appears and usually you have no chance to pick up on precursor signals. We just don’t have access to data on our own bodies. In fact we don’t really have a healthcare system. What we have is a ‘sick care system’. So how can we use new technologies to help change that? Connected objects can give us real-time access to lots of data on our health and so help to bring about a fundamental change in our way of life and our quality of life. That’s what Fitbit, for example, is offering with its connected wristbands.

We recently interviewed the co-founder of NextRequest, which provides citizens with an easy means of asking their local authorities for access to public documents. In your opinion, is e-government going to take pride of place in the cities of tomorrow?

Well, I think the goal is to have government come directly to us. Having to go through the process of approaching the government yourself is a real pain, basically a huge waste of time and energy. Lots of towns are now looking for a solution to this problem. In fact we’ve been experimenting with our own solution in the city of Nice. This consists of a cabin equipped with a touch-screen, a camera, document scanner and printer, which enables people to carry out a range of administrative tasks without having to go over to the City Hall or some other public institution. There’s also a communication tool which lets you talk with an adviser in real time. We’ve set them up at strategic points – shopping centres, bus stops, train stations, airports, sports complexes and so on. This initiative has been very well received. We’re now in talks with the French government about setting up this solution in other cities as well.

And this is also a way for a city to enhance its appeal...

Absolutely. I think any city would wish to mark itself out. Previously, the attractiveness of a city used to depend on its architecture, for example, or its museums. Today that’s no longer enough. Just imagine a city where you couldn’t get a network connection for your phone: you’d immediately get the feeling that you were in a third world town. So nowadays everything is about technology, connectivity, the attention paid to tech startups, and the city’s ability to offer its citizens new experiences, enable them to park more easily, improve their sense of security with ‘smarter’ lighting systems, provide them with real-time information, geolocalised services and so on. Some of these services can be set up by startups, others will require the municipality to work with them because they have control of certain types of data. This is why a number of cities are now working to set up open data platforms in order to turn their town into a fertile garden for startups to create interesting things. This is all the more important given that nowadays competition is taking place between different cities rather than different states. Young graduates are not necessarily trying to find work in their own country, they look around at big cities all over the world and will go for the one that can offer them not necessarily just the best job but also the best services, the best experience. Those cities that can offer a propitious ecosystem for technological innovation will come out on top.

Do drones have a role in the city of the future?

That’s a certainty. Especially for safety and security. When there’s a serious accident it’s often difficult to get to the scene quickly. Just imagine an unmanned aircraft that can arrive on the spot fast, equipped with a camera, and transmit live images to the SWAT team, the ambulance drivers, the Fire & Rescue service. That’s what happened in Nepal, it’s fantastic. You can create maps, spot exactly where the people who need assistance are located and so you know exactly where to send the emergency services. On the other hand, we’ll have to think a bit about the issue of noise pollution from drones...

Recently a drone hit the headlines when its pilot steered it across the White House gardens without anyone sounding the alarm. So should we be thinking about imposing No-fly zones for drones, as some people are already advocating?

When Bill Gates got married on a little Hawaian island, he requisitioned all the helicopters on the island so that the paparazzi wouldn’t be able to take photos or shoot videos of his wedding. Now just suppose that wedding were taking place today… what could we do? Are we going to have to set up anti-drone defence systems? And any time a drone penetrates the restricted zone you shoot it down!!?? That’s hard to imagine… I think we will in fact have ‘No-fly zones’ and I also think that drones will have the built-in intelligence not to enter prohibited areas. No civil drone ought to be able to fly over the White House under any circumstances whatsoever. But I’m convinced that drones will be used to provide basic services to citizens, and that’s a really good thing.

To make deliveries, for instance?

This will be another interesting case to deal with. If we imagine millions of drones criss-crossing the airspace to deliver parcels, this will radically change the way the airspace is regulated. It’s going to be exciting to witness… another interesting use is that drones are able to provide a WiFi connection in remote areas. Very useful for quite a number of developing countries.

In this respect do the issues for Smart Cities differ according to the level of development of the country they’re in?

Well, we set out on this adventure around eight years ago. At that time, we were working mostly with emerging countries. Such-and-such a country in the Middle East would say to us: “We’re going to build a new town from scratch for 20 billion dollars.” China claimed to have the intention of building a thousand smart cities, India was talking about a hundred… All these countries had the advantage of being able to start out from virgin territory, so it was feasible to think about designing the city to accommodate the new technologies right from the very beginning. That’s much easier than incorporating the technologies when the town had already been thought out and built along different lines – with all the restrictions that implies.

Nevertheless, I think that most of the best opportunities are still today to be found in developed countries. Europe, for example, took an interest in Smart Cities before anyone else did, including the United States. In the first place, Europe has always been out in front when it comes to energy savings and in the second place Europeans expect more in the way of services from their towns, because there are plans in place for this and taxes are higher. City authorities are expected to provide people with a better quality of life, which is of course where the Smart City comes in.

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