Ready for the smart revolution?
Technology director Rob Reng talks us through the astounding developments taking place in the world of tech and how they're leading us to a smarter, more intelligent breed of city...
I was recently snorkelling along the edge of a coral reef in Australia. On my left was a serene world of luminous coral and colourful sea-life, on my right was the continental shelf and water so deep and black I was punched with vertigo when peering into it. I could only imagine what kinds of bizarre and otherworldly creatures live down there, and while this was on the one hand disconcerting, I simply could not stop looking and imagining in wonder.
Back on dry land, I get the same vertiginous feeling when I consider how life-changing the next few years in technology will be.
You will no doubt have heard about the ‘internet of things’. Consider for a moment, every conceivable object in your home being smart. Right now you probably have a smartphone, and it’s getting smarter. It knows where you are, it can understand your voice, it can bring you information, it can be your coach, and pretty soon you’ll be able to use it to pay for goods and check in to flights and hotels.
On the one hand, this is an amazing level of utility that brings marked improvements to your life. On the other, this is usage data waiting to be captured and analysed by those companies making apps, products and services for your smartphone. This exchange is a powerful concept that will continue to drive smartness. I’m happy to give you my data, if you can make my life easier or better.
Now, apply that to every single object you own. Your alarm clock is internet-enabled. It knows where you are. It knows the state of your local transport system. It knows your calendar. It knows the weather. It wakes you up when you need to wake up. It fires a message to your home control system to turn on the kettle, and switch on the toaster. Your tablet is already playing the news when you walk into the kitchen. You ran out of milk yesterday, but your fridge saw that and put in a new order for you. In the meantime, your house runs you a bath at the precise temperature you like. Outside, it’s freezing, but your car already knows to defrost its windows. On the way to work, the traffic lights operate according to traffic weight as opposed to predefined patterns, so there are no hold-ups.
As smartness is applied to everything, we end up with an intelligent, interconnected smart city – and they’re already being built. Songdo International Business District in South Korea is scheduled for completion in 2015. This Orwellian conurbation will be powered by Cisco, which will connect energy, telecoms, traffic monitoring and security systems into a single intelligent network. Residents will be able to control their homes from anywhere on their smartphones. Cars will communicate with roads, which will control streetlights. Rubbish will be sucked away via a pneumatic waste collection system straight to the dump through a network of pipes. No dustbin trucks for them.
This, I hope, will lead to a city as a platform, where Cisco provides the infrastructure and opens it up to application developers, allowing us to build apps which connect people to everything around them.
What smartness does is take away from us those repetitive tasks that we usually find mundane and monotonous. We’re happy, because we get to spend more time doing the things we want; companies are happy, because they get the data to understand consumer patterns and make their product and services even more desirable. The planet is happier, because the efficiencies of our smart cities mean a far more eco-friendly approach to the consumption of power and goods.
There is a wealth of opportunity in the 'internet of things'. For us in technology, it's about building applications that provide genuine utility by connecting people to the objects in their lives, and building highly intelligent data analysis tools to help us understand the astounding quantities of data we are undoubtedly going to generate in our interconnected world.