The road ahead for smart cities

The road ahead for smart cities

Cities around the world are adopting ever smarter, joined-up solutions to keep their citizens safe in the face of terrorism and crime, as well as ensuring other key aspects of city life – like traffic – are moving in the right direction. Timothy Compston reports


IHS estimated that the global safe city market was worth $13.05 billion in 2015. This figure is predicted to reach a massive $20.06 billion by 2020. The market research company says that video surveillance equipment and hardware and peripheral devices account for around half of this revenue, closely followed by command and control equipment revenue. So clearly this is a big opportunity for security equipment manufacturers.

So how can those working in security better understand the operational challenges facing those responsible for making our cities both safer and smarter? Per Björkdahl, chair of ONVIF’s steering committee says that interoperability as an ongoing concern: “This continues to present one of the greatest challenges, particularly with video management systems, video recording devices and cameras,” he says.

Björkdahl reckons that the most common scenario is that municipalities have several different management systems for city operations that were created by different manufacturers, each with proprietary interfaces for integration: “To connect its different systems together, cities often end up employing a single-vendor ‘build once and maintain forever’ approach, in which the continuing cost for integration of the city’s systems becomes prohibitively expensive.” Thankfully, times are changing and Björkdahl believes that standards, such as those from ONVIF, can help to provide the common link for cities between the disparate components of such systems.

Last October it was announced that Huawei, the information and communications technology provider, was working with Intelligent Security Systems (ISS) to provide enhanced safe city surveillance capabilities to law enforcement agencies around the region. The surveillance systems will be jointly developed and tested at the Huawei Open-Lab Centre in Dubai.

Speaking at the time Richard Cai, director of Open-Lab Middle East, Huawei Enterprise Middle East said: “Intelligent Security Systems’ intelligent video solution is being matched to Huawei’s cloud-based intelligent surveillance solution that provides 24/7 high-definition surveillance that uses low bandwidth and supports continuous video recording.”

James Chong, the founder and ceo of Vidsys, reckons that for cities CSIM (Converged Security and Information Management) – which was introduced two years ago – is a natural evolution of the PSIM concept. Chong explains that, with converged security and information management, the information management aspect is becoming all about big data and the IoT (Internet of Things), the smart city, the safe city, and smart transportation: “What we are now seeing is that the data can come from any source and everything is, basically, becoming connected. The definition of IoT is advanced connectivity to sensors, devices, systems, and sub-systems and services, which are then connected to the cloud.”

Chong believes that the Middle East is certainly one region where CSIM is gaining legs. A case-in-point being the announcement that neXgen Group, a leading smart city advisory and managed services provider based in the UAE, will be offering smart safety and security as a service leveraging Vidsys’ CSIM multi-tenant cloud-based solution. neXgen Group specialises in extending smart city technology solutions as a service to governments, real estate, and enterprise customers across the region and has been actively involved in flagship projects such as Smart Dubai and Smart Riyadh, contributing its regional consulting expertise and in-country smart city managed services.

More generally, the drive to apply innovative approaches for safer and smarter cities is accelerating, this month (May) we saw, for example, the announcement by NVIDIA ( a name more commonly associated with the PC gaming market) of its Metropolis intelligent video analytics platform. NVIDIA reckons that Metropolis has the potential to make cities safer and smarter by applying deep learning to video streams for applications such as public safety, traffic management and resource optimisation.

“Deep learning is enabling powerful intelligent video analytics that turn anonymised video into real-time valuable insights, enhancing safety and improving lives,” says Deepu Talla, vice president and general manager of the Tegra business at NVIDIA. Talla adds that the Metropolis platform will enable customers to put what he refers to as AI (Artifical Intelligence) behind every video stream to create smart cities.

Mass notification

Sadly, we live in a very uncertain world with cities in the frontline and when there is a terrorist attack or some sort of natural disaster. For the authorities, the ability to communicate in an effective and timely manner with those in harm’s way is therefore a critical consideration. Situations can develop extremely quickly and, in some cases, impact more than one location simultaneously, adding to the fear and confusion on the ground. In addition to employing social and more traditional media to reach the public and other stakeholders with their messages, we are witnessing a new generation of specialised solutions coming to the fore that are designed to deliver targeted, geo-specific information in a joined-up way.

One approach that has certainly gained more traction over recent years are specific smartphone applications or apps. In the lead-up to the Euro 2016 tournament in France, for example, a major concern was how to communicate safety and security messages should a terrorist-type situation develop. The solution in question was a free emergency app known as SAIP – which some dubbed ‘the terror app’ – whose origins can be traced to the Paris attacks last year. A major test for SAIP came not at Euro 2016 itself but soon after when, on Bastille Day, a truck was driven into crowds in Nice killing over 80 people and injuring hundreds more. Unfortunately, according to media reports at the time, the app – which was designed to flash an ‘instant’ warning on a user’s mobile phone screen if an attack was close to their location – failed at the first hurdle.

Imad Mouline, cto at Everbridge, an enterprise software company that creates applications to automate the delivery of critical information, believes that what happened in Nice serves to reinforce the case for the implementation of multi-modal communication routes: “Many things have evolved, but one thing that hasn’t is that communications are likely to break down at some point.”

Olympic triumph

During the Olympics in Rio a multi-million dollar Rio Operations Centre (ROC) at Cidade Nova was at the heart of incident, smart traffic, and public transport management and is a glowing example of IBM’s smarter cities. The centre was a real game changer for the city’s day-to- day operations, according its chief executive officer Pedro Junqueira. One of the main aims of the centre was to help improve the way the city could deal with major natural disasters such as flash flooding and landslides. In total the centre brings together 30 government departments and agencies from across the municipality. It has 500 personnel working under one roof across different shifts. This approach and the implementation of advanced urban systems for visualisation, monitoring, and analysis has, it is reckoned, helped to slash incident response times by an impressive 25-30%.

Perhaps signalling the shape of things to come, the Olympics in Rio saw the high-profile deployment of four tactical tethered aerostats – or blimp systems. These aerostats were tasked with floating continuously over key Olympic venues under, an approximately, US $8 million contract. The solution in question, chosen by the authorities, was the OMNI aerostat from ALTAVE – the Brazilian lighter than-air aerospace company – which, the vendor claims, represents the first wide area, persistent surveillance, aerostat developed specifically for civilian use.

Bruno de Azevedo, director and co-founder of the ALTAVE OMNI project says: “The Olympics is a complex event for security. The authorities realised that filling the city with cameras wouldn’t solve the problem – the information would be scattered”. For him the beauty of the ALTAVE OMNI as an aerostat is the way it offers a big picture or – more technically speaking – enhanced situational awareness.

The bigger picture is indeed one that encompasses much more than security, as Andrew Elvish, vp marketing and product management at Genetec explains.”It’s interesting to see a lot more attention going into how to handle the explosion of data that is going on in security and more broadly in cities. It doesn’t have to just do with security it can be ITS – intelligent traffic systems – it can be sort of community portals where citizens can feedback, there is just a lot more data going on right now.”

So how to you help cities manage the vast swathes of evidence that is being captured from their video surveillance infrastructure? Elvish is enthusiastic about a recent initiative called Genetec Clearance. In practice, according to Elvish, this allows police officers, investigators, and security managers to gather digital evidence from a variety of sources such as Security Center, and other video management systems, body-worn devices, in-car systems and mobile phone footage from bystanders and witnesses, and easily store, manage, review and share it from within a single application.

Connecting communities

Looking at what lies ahead for smarter and safer cities, Elvish’s colleague Pervez Siddiqui, vp of business development at Genetec, also gives his take on developments here: “The biggest thing to take away is that there is a lot of talk about smart cities but very few people are able to pinpoint what this is able to do or what the common thread is for a city or a resident.”

Siddiqui believes that there is now real traction around applications that actually break down silos: “This is what Clearance helps to do. Silos for the most part exist either jurisdictionally or across departments or across technologies. That is where I think we are going to see initial wins around ‘smart city’ conversations and where there are capabilities that didn’t exist before.” He goes on to cite the example of Genetec’s Community Connect programme which has helped to mobilise people around the idea of small businesses connecting to law enforcement and has already worked successfully for Project Green Light – which involved gas [petrol] stations in Detroit – and is now being applied elsewhere.