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Glasgow gets 'smart city' funding - but is it an opportunity missed?

Caroline Baldwin

Glasgow has been chosen to receive a £24m government grant to help transform it into a futuristic ‘smart city’. The money will be used to provide better technology services for Glaswegians.

The city will demonstrate new services in health, transport, energy and public safety sectors. It is hoped this will provide an insight into how IT can be used to improve how people live and work in a future city. UK businesses will be able to pilot technologies in the smart city, which can then be sold around the globe.

The services could improve the local economy, as well as increasing the quality of life for the citizens, according to the Technology Strategy Board, which selected Glasgow for its £24m million Future Cities Demonstrator grant. Thirty other UK cities will receive grants of £50,000 to carry out feasibility studies to see how each could become a smart city.

Glasgow’s smart city will comprise a series of projects aiming to cut crime and anti-social behaviour by using advanced street lighting, as well as making travel infrastructure more intelligent.

“This will help us to create a more efficient and a more sustainable city, which can adapt and move ahead of the technology of the day and make it work for everyone who lives or works in Glasgow,” said councillor Gordon Matheson, of Glasgow City Council,

“Estimates suggest that the connected cities market could be worth as much as $35bn in the coming years and it therefore has to be hoped that the Future Cities Demonstrator will provide an opportunity for up-and-coming UK technology companies to show their skills and products,” said Tim Kay, from KPMG’s technology start-up practice.

“Too often these companies have had to look overseas for market opportunities, increasing their risks and slowing their growth prospects,” he said.

Integration not start-ups

However, Scott Cain, project leader of Future Cities in the Technology Strategy Board, told Computer Weekly that the Future Cities Demonstrator would be all about integrating existing technologies, rather than investing in start-ups.

“What will be done is that largely off-the-shelf technology today will be bought together in a way that they haven’t been able to do before, by pushing the boundaries of current technologies to their next stage,” Cain said.

“£40m-50m of the grant is capital and goes into the ability to put in place the sensors on traffic lights, street lighting and so forth. But it is also going to integrate all the different modes of transport.”

Through the grant Cain said street lighting could be connected to CCTV footage and be accessible to the emergency services.

Missed opportunity for technology pioneers

However, some say the plans are too vague and a lack of technical detail makes it difficult for innovators and smaller businesses to see an opportunity to get involved.

“How is advanced street lighting a future city?” asks Adam Kent, founder of start-up Enado, which produces software that enables technologies in the home to communicate with each other and become more intelligent. “It’s not my perception of smart.”

“The Italian Job with Michael Caine was controlling traffic lights and sensors using programs stored on tape drives. And CCTV footage accessible to the police? Not exactly innovative or new,” he said.

Kent also went on to say that it would be practically impossible for small businesses and start-ups to allocate resources to a project of this size without the prospect of revenue.

Glasgow City Council involvement in smart city project

Meanwhile, other critics have condemned giving taxpayers money to local authorities without proving their entrepreneurial worth first.

“It’s unusual for the Technology Strategy Board to fund local authorities, it’s never happened before,” said Cain.“If there’s going to be a large-scale intervention, whether the local authority pays for it or not, it is impossible for it to happen at scale without their say.”

Cain said the Technology Strategy Board listened to entrepreneurs and companies, and decided the best way was for funds to be allocated to Glasgow Council. However, the Future Cities project will ensure work programmes reflect the plans for innovation to “open up a way that entrepreneurs from all sorts of background can influence together,” he said.

Data captured from the project will be made available to interested businesses, cities and academics, to develop solutions for the rest of the country as well as being sold to cities over the world.

However, this will only work if citizens become used to sharing their information. 

“People will need to become more comfortable with sharing even more data on their location, habits and preferences to fully exploit the undoubted benefits,” said Kay from KPMG.

 


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