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Evolving Glasgow’s Future City

It has been two years since Glasgow was awarded £24m under the Future City demonstrator programme. We find out how it has evolved

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Two years ago, Glasgow city council beat London, Peterborough and Bristol with its Future City demonstrator proposal, showcasing smart city projects, and received £24m from the Technology Strategy Board.

It used the funding to demonstrate technology-led initiatives to integrate transport, communications and other infrastructure to improve the local economy, increase quality of life and reduce impact on the environment.

Gary Walker, programme director for Future City Glasgow, says the programme had four key themes: active travel, aimed at encouraging people to walk and cycle; transport; public safety; and energy.

According to the Future City of Glasgow feasibility study, which look at a system to manage Glasgow, the city has the lowest life expectancy in the UK. Female life expectancy at birth (78 years) in Glasgow is greater than male life expectancy (71.6 years), but both were much lower than the UK national average for females (82.3 years) and males (78.2 years) in 2010.

Among the pilot schemes the city has conducted through Future City demonstrator are a number of initiatives to encourage people to cycle or walk.

Walker says of the active travel demonstrator: “We have a relatively low percentage of people who cycle. We are not as flat as Amsterdam or Copenhagen, but we wanted to allow commuters to map their journeys and share them and rate them.”

Through the demonstrator project, Glasgow created a number of mobile phone apps for crowdsourcing this information.

Walker says the city could also use the data collected to inform future infrastructure decisions. “We don’t have an infinite amount of money to create cycle lanes,” he says. “But by analysing popular cycle routes, city planners could ascertain where to build new ones.”

The council also created a walking app for places of interest and parks, which uses GPS on smartphones to get people walking. “The communities picked up on this and we worked to enable them to add their local knowledge,” Walker adds.

He says the app was highly configurable, enabling people to localise it by bolting on additional functionality. “One of the communities enhanced the original walking app by adding historical pictures and stories,” he says.

Improving transport

Under the social transport initiative, Glasgow introduced technology into 120 minibuses for transporting children and social work clients, says Walker.

The city has always used paper maps and local knowledge to run such services, he says, but by applying route optimisation and allowing vehicles to divert their journeys, it has proved it could shave tens of thousands of miles from vehicle travel, bringing substantial savings in fuel and time and enabling Glasgow to reduce the number of minibuses.

Smarter energy

Glasgow’s third Future City demonstrator concerned energy. Walker says: “For the energy demonstrator, we created a couple of apps – one enables people to fill in energy usage information about their property, which can then be compared with other similar properties. The app can then provide recommendations to the homeowner in how to reduce energy consumption and provide links to suitable grants, such as for loft insulation or solar photovoltaic (PV) installations. The city is also able to use this data to understand how properties consume energy.

“The second app enables the council and other landowners to identify possible sites for ground-based solar PV panels. We have just put in a business case for putting in place solar PV, with a payback period, enabling the council to fund other projects.”

Street lighting

The Future City demonstrator that has attracted most attention is Glasgow city’s smart street light trial. The city has a population of 600,000, and there are 72,000 sodium street lights, giving a low ratio of one light for every eight people.

But sodium street lights are also power-hungry and last only three to four years, so there is a strong business case to replace them with internet-connected LED street lights, says Walker.

“We replaced the sodium lights with LEDs, then we looked at connecting the lights to a central management system over the internet to monitor their performance, trimming light levels based on circumstances,” he says.

The lights normally operate at 20% brightness, “but when someone walks by, they go up to 100%”, says Walker.

As the business case is so strong, Walker says the council will now roll out connected street lights across Glasgow city centre and will deploy Wi-Fi hotspots from these lights to connect other smart city devices, also providing connectivity for council workers.

Street connectivity

And what is the next phase? “We are looking at smart waste,” says Walker. “When we replace a bin, we will replace it with one that has a fullness sensor, so the bin lorry will turn up when it gets full.”

The setup will involve the city installing large-volume underground bins, with a receptacle for litter above ground. These bins would have fullness sensors connected to the internet.

Going forward, Walker sees plenty of opportunities to internet-enable other street assets.

Smart parking will enable an electric car owner to find a charge point to park their car
Gary Walker, Future City Glasgow

For instance, on-street parking bays could be fitted with sensors, he says. “A driver comes into the city and uses an app to guide them to a free space. They would pay via their phone, and would receive a text 10 minutes before parking expires.” In this way, the driver could top up their parking by phone.

Such a system would also allow parking enforcement officers to be more focused, says Walker.

Beyond parking, he believes smart city internet-connected parking will be needed to support the adoption of electric cars.

“By 2022, electric cars will be more cost-effective than petrol and diesel,” he says. “With an increase in electric vehicles, there are not enough charge points. Smart parking will enable an electric car owner to find a charge point to park their car.”

Video analytics

Before the demonstrator initiatives began, Glasgow had started to upgrade its operations centre, says Walker. “But the Future City demonstrator allowed us to do much more,” he adds.

For example, in the past, Glasgow’s team of traffic engineers worked separately from its community wardens, who had a separate control centre with their own CCTV cameras. Police Scotland used the community wardens’ control room to monitor community safety.

But through Glasgow’s Future City demonstrator programme, these functions are now co-located in one control room, and the hardware has been refreshed. Walker says the city’s traffic light and public space cameras were all analogue and reaching the end of their life, and have now been replaced by high-definition IP cameras with high-speed communication links.

One of the demonstrator projects was a physical security information management system, which used video analytics to monitor 500 public spaces. Automation is used to help operations staff track camera activity. “We don’t want a million-pound fountain to be damaged, so we created a digital perimeter around that asset,” says Walker.

If there is a report of a missing person, the software can search for that person
Gary Walker, Future City Glasgow

This sends an alert to the operations centre, prompting an operative to check the camera if the digital perimeter is breached, he adds.

In the Future City demonstrator programme, video analytics was also used to send an alert if large crowds were congregating in a particular areas at a certain time of day or night.

A further application of video analytics was to help track missing children. Although technology to identify people is used at airports, it is far harder to apply such analytics in public spaces, particularly in Scotland, which often sees heavy rain, says Walker.

“If there is a report of a missing person, the software can search for that person,” he says. In one scenario, an operative may have spotted the child in one image and can then search for that image across all cameras, tracking the child’s movement over time. It is also possible to run a video search based on an imported image, with the software running searches based on the individual’s height or clothes colours.

Data is key

Among the lasting legacies of Glasgow’s Future City demonstrator programme is the data hub and operations centre.

The hub now has 300 datasets from 60 organisations. This will continue to grow, says Walker, and the council is looking at how it can make use of the data collected.

One of the benefits the council did not originally anticipate is using data to give buses preferential traffic flow, he says.

Glasgow also developed a series of scenarios to explore how data could transform city services.

Among the outcomes was one Walker describes as the city’s ‘busyness index’. This is based on taking multiple datasets to create a time series that attempts to make sense of people’s whereabouts throughout the city.

We can start to use predictive analytics to enable the retailers to provide more stock or offer a sale
Gary Walker, Future City Glasgow

One example of where the busyness index is helpful is at Glasgow’s marketing bureau, which needs to understand the effectiveness of promoting events to attract people into the city, says Walker. “We are looking at Traffcomm [traffic signal] data, footfall sensor data, transport data and taxi information to create the index.”

According to Walker, some retailers have agreed to provide their own data to the busyness index. “As you get more datasets, the index becomes less of an estimate,” he says.

Certain events can benefit one retailer, but may negatively impact another. “We can start to use predictive analytics to enable the retailers to provide more stock or offer a sale,” says Walker.

The index now has 18 datasets, and because the Future City programme has now finished, retailers are talking to the marketing bureau because they see the benefits of the index.

The council can also use the data itself. “Council planners now have evidence,” says Walker. “If they spend their money, such as increasing the frequency of bin collections, they can see the effect.”

Going forward

Walker says the demonstrator projects have had high-profile political and non-political support. “The leader of the council and the CEO were thoroughly behind the Future City demonstrator programme,” he says. “If you say to a council leader, would you like your city to be sustainable, would you like your city to be smart, they are not going to turn round and say no.”

Beyond the political appetite for smart city initiatives, Walker says the demonstrator programme is fuelling transformational change in the city from the bottom up.

The Future City demonstrator began with a big team, but now a lot of people have moved on, he says.

Although the council was focused on delivering the demonstrator initiatives over a relatively short space of time, the people involved can use their experiences to figure out what it will do next, says Walker.

Read more about smart cities

“There is a lot of experience in the council, at the universities and within SMEs,” he adds. “This has given us a distinct advantage in being able to embed smart city concepts into the future development of council services.”

A European regional development fund for smart cities within Scotland is helping Glasgow create a smarter city strategy, he points out. “We are embedding connectivity into what we do, and there is a blueprint for a smart city Scotland strategy.”

One of the problems is that the council has a range of people who deal with data, says Walker. “They may deal with data in their own way, with individual spreadsheets – leading to data silos. Such data silos could unlock potential efficiency savings. We would like to use these datasets to allow us to change the way we operate.”

Glasgow is continuing to roll out smart street lights, and is looking to extend connectivity to support smart waste and provide connectivity to other council assets. Walker believes the data collected from these assets will help city planning and enable the council to expand how it engages with citizens.

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