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From traditional to Smart City

Neermal Poonie

What’s the definition of the Smart City, the Buzz term? Let’s define a city first. It may be defined as a large human network generally more important than a town or village. A Smart City shares the same definition with the difference of being interconnected with the latest technologies (5G/IoT) and planned using modern urban techniques (algorithm setting patterns) whilst preserving a sustainable environment for the long-term benefit of its people/the community. Interestingly though, different countries tend to have different definitions of the term Smart City.

Smart cities are defined by the OECD as initiatives or approaches that effectively leverage digitalisation to boost citizen well-being and deliver more efficient, sustainable and inclusive urban services and environments as part of a collaborative, multi-stakeholder process.

In other cases, smart cities have been defined as initiatives or approaches that use digital innovation (including digital-enabled innovation) to improve competitiveness in a community and efficiency of urban services.

The concept of Smart City Scheme was launched in year 2015 in Mauritius under The Investment Promotion Act 2015 and The Investment Promotion (Smart City Scheme).

Regulations 2015 respectively after around more than a decade of trial and error in modern foreign countries. One of the objects of the Mauritius Smart City Scheme is to promote the creation of smart cities across Mauritius which shall be of mixed use comprising office, business, residential and entertainment components, all integrated in a coherent Master Plan focussing on innovation, sustainability, efficiency and quality of life and, where appropriate, involving the creation of technopoles3. Many could argue that because of its size of around 2000 km2, is Mauritius not itself a city? As of now, the relevant authority in Mauritius has provided letters of intent to six projects and already handed over certificates to five other projects. The trending words Smart City has more than just words in the sense that the « villes intelligentes » are meant to or should aspire to:

  • Adopt Smart Savings in terms of limited resources (fuel; water; gas and others) by real time consumption and instant automatic supply cut or instant redistribution to other places where there is demand. In addition patterns of consumption will determine the supply which can be uniform. This will lead to savings at a macro and micro level.
  • Adopt Smart Grids for controlled electricity and potentially a more balance « bouquet d’énergie » with solar, wind, waves and traditional polluted energy production.
  • Adopt Smart Parking with cars being automatically channelled to available spaces.
  • Adopt Smart Contracts, whereby once the set conditions of a contract are met, the system will automatically process payment for instance (not sure if via traditional way) to the other party. The other party via a decentralised ledger cannot deny receipt as via the decentralised ledger, everyone in the network will have a proof of that payment.
  • Adopt Smart Mobility – less use of polluting vehicles and co-sharing of cars to a larger extent in exchange of tokens which can be used in the city/country for other products and services. In addition smart traffic watch with real time information.
  • Adopt Smart Security where the policing will be able to have real-time information based on cameras and sensors with optimum intervention. In addition the cameras can analyse people behaviour and try to determine with some level of certainty any potential robbery/crime. Moreover, traffic sensors can promptly spot accidents with accelerated first aid. The latter will also enable insurance companies to know with a degree of certainty the circumstances of the accident. In addition data analytics may enable the authorities to build a correlation (positive or negative) between accidents, road, lights, time, age of drivers, among other numerous variable factors.
  • Adopt Smart Customer Due Diligence, whereby a central registry (like the Mauritius Central Bank has announced) will increase the efficiency of the authorities and service providers.
  • Adopt Smart Land Registry.
  • Adopt Smart Waste Management whereby a sensor will drop a message to the collection team to assemble the garbage once it attains a certain level.
  • Adopt Smart Transport System so that refund of old age and students (who travel free of charge in buses) for instance will be monitored and avoid untracked payments from the public funds.
  • Adopt Smart Attendance.
  • Adopt Smart Buildings with auto-administration of their lighting, parking, restaurants, among others.
  • Adopt Smart Houses which will connect the individual’s car, office, home, mobile on a single platform.
  • Adopt Smart Healthcare with set algorithms determining with precision the cause of sickness/diagnostics based on a set of comparable data.
  • A better understanding of customer behaviour for businesses.
  • Smart Defence Protocols against flood, cyclone with pre-set conditions.
  • Smart Public Services and Smart Governance.
  • Tokenise to a maximum the City’s daily operations (although tokenisation is another sensitive topic these days). Dubai provides an example of how using blockchain in transactions can enable smart city technologies.

The following proofs of concept have been unveiled:

  • Digitize health records on blockchain to provide patients and care providers with secure access to medical data;
  • Digitize and transfer Kimberley certificates on blockchain to secure the diamond trade;
  • Transfer titles of illiquid assets on blockchain to increase trade efficiency;
  • Streamline ID verification to reduce business registration times;
  • Use blockchain-based wills and contracts to ease transfer of ownership;
  • Boost tourism in Dubai through a blockchain-based program that would allow visitors to earn and spend loyalty points;
  • Apply blockchain to trade finance to more effectively exchange goods and the financing for those goods. It has also been estimated that the smart cities market is expected to be worth USD 1.2 trillion by 2025.
  • There are questions raised about smart cities and the technology being used, such as “are sensors secured?” and “what about Data Protection v/s Big Brother”? Sensors and Data Protection, just like anything else, can be used in mala fide i.e. fake data could be inserted. But should we throw the baby with the bath water in this case? The answer will depend on one’s belief, interest, perception, age, life style, exposure to new technology, to mention a few. But rationally the answer will generally be deemed to be no. The merits elaborated in this article are only some merits which a Smart City can bring.

By Neermal Poonie
from Rosemont Mauritius