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When Big Data shapes tomorrow’s cities

More energy efficient, more respectful of resources, safer, more pleasant to live in - the city of the future is full of promise... a promise that will be kept thanks to Big Data.

Imagine it is 2030. As you do every morning, you get ready for work. On the bathroom mirror some numbers are displayed in real time: the amount of water you use in the shower, your power consumption, the temperature in your home, but also your building’s carbon footprint and the frequency of the subways trains running just below you. Once outside, you decide that because it’s a lovely day you would rather go by bike using the hire service. Your smartphone tells you how many bikes are available at the terminals closest to you, and the route that will give you the smoothest ride in terms of traffic. At a red light, you look at the bus shelter - the latest news from all over the world appears just beneath the surface as text, images and in 3D. It is not science fiction. It is already here.

The Holy Trinity of the smart city

You’ve got it! The real time numbers and information you are getting are thanks to Big Data - the huge flow of data generated every day (that according to EMC reached 1.8 trillion megabytes in 2011) (french). Data is collected in various ways: public business software (transport, telecommunications), cameras and measuring devices installed by the city, not to mention the mobile applications and connected objects we all use. It would be impossible to capture this stream of data without the cloud - the new generation storage space. The dynamics of the smart city rely on this triangle of cloud computing, the Internet of Things and Big Data. But is it just a new lifestyle?

The end justifies the means

Living in a smart city doesn’t only mean dealing with advanced technology every day. It is not about living faster, or having more fun. It is first and foremost an attempt to live better. By 2025, there will be 4.3 billion urban dwellers. An expansion that directly impacts of our water consumption, our energy consumption as well as our waste production and our overall environmental footprint - not to mention depleting natural resources. Living in a smart city means living in a place which has not only been designed to meet the specific needs of the people living there but also interacts with them. In this context Big Data offers an interesting way of effectively and sustainably responding to what is fast becoming a critical situation.

Here and now

If this is the future we envisage when thinking about connected cities, we only have to look around us to see some of the first initiatives in operation. Big Data means we can now visualize a "living" city in 3D. Individual people, crowds, vehicles and other traffic flows can be modeled in real time. Technology that Veolia contributes to through its partnership with ForCity, a French start-up based in Lyon, whose concept is based on the research conducted by Veolia. The goal? To get a better understanding of the interactions between all the stakeholder in a city (people, infrastructure, services, geography) to give a clearer picture of the impact of urban development.
Traffic, road safety, cleanliness... all aspects of city life are gradually being more responsibly managed. ZenPark, for example, is the very first automated shared car park operator. Because the number of vacant parking spaces each year in France is estimated at 650,000 and 1 in 3 motorists driving around town are looking for somewhere to park, the French start-up has created a service that allows drivers to reduce the amount of time spent looking - and consequently their CO2 emissions.
In anticipation of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, and thanks to the data and cameras set up in the city, IBM has been able to develop tools for managing public works and roads to help Rio de Janeiro to cope with the floods and landslides it regularly suffers.
In terms of cleanliness, in Pas-de-Calais Veolia has developed a tool for communicating with local people. Via a website and a mobile application, they are continuously informed about waste collection systems. They can also find the nearest geotagged recycling center or report a problem.

It’s impossible to begin to count the myriad sensors (temperature of a building or energy consumption, for example) that are gradually emerging on business premises and in private homes worldwide.
In short, Big Data is opening the way to reconciling nature and cities, the environment and people’s needs.

Find out more:

- Find out about ForCity
- How exactly does ZenPark work (French)?
- PredPol in detail
- Discover IBM's Smarterplanet blog and learn more about Big Data, with the participation of Laurent Auguste, Senior EVP Innovation and Markets Veolia.

Main picture: © Getty images / Stocktrek Images

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