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Co-creating smart cities of the future: a glimpse of the Future Internet Assembly

--- Posted by Christian Nielsen, ESN, Rapporteur to the European Commission at the Future Internet Assembly

In the large assembly hall behind the glowing ‘Hands-on FIRE’ demos, delegates received a warm welcome to the Aalborg Future Internet Assembly from, among others, Morten Østergaard, Danish Minister for Science, Innovation and Higher Education and Finn Kjærsdam, President of Aalborg University who outlined their vision of ‘Smart Cities and the Internet of Things’ (IoT).

“Smart systems create whole new fundamental infrastructure for our society with the internet at the centre – and there is unlimited potential,” said Minister Østergaard. But smart systems need smart people “who are fluent in digital language”.

Smart cities combine the latest technologies and data-driven trends with socially-conscious policies and actions to improve the quality of life of “smart citizens” who live in them. The Internet of Things and other Future Internet (FI) developments, including infrastructure, services, standards, “big data” and security assurances, pave the way for joined-up cities to evolve.

Keynote speaker Thierry Van Landegem, VP Alcatel-Lucent, explained how ICT infrastructure is like a “central nervous system” for smart cities. But “smartness”, he cautioned, is not just technology; it is also about managing resources and handling vast datasets generated by the IoT. “If you analyse this data you can learn from it,” he said, and it can be used to create “value-added” apps for end-users.

In his keynote, Reinhart Scholl, Deputy to the Director of ITU, called on the FI community to press for robust standards and actions underpinning smart city developments. But it is a complicated ecosystem, he noted, which will get more so as ICT becomes more pervasive (among transport, utilities, citizens, …) and interconnected. The ICT community will have to collaborate with other organisations in different fields with different models and cultures, he suggested. “There will be some trial and error to get the best results.”

A roundtable focusing on smart cities followed, involving mayors and representatives of Santander, Spain and Aarhus and Aalborg in Denmark, along with speakers from the telecom giant Telefonica and the University of Aalto, Finland. The grass-roots perspective was also considered during this thought-provoking session with contributions from Asta Fog Larsen, a citizen of host city Aalborg, who stressed that, as a senior citizen, her generation will be an important target and test group for the e-health and e-services proposed in smart cities.

But one burning question could not be answered yet in full: how can authorities ensure society plays its role in co-creating smart cities of the future?

Leaders need to empower people with open data and civil society models to create and innovate alongside entrepreneurs, suggested Markkula Markku of Aalto University, Finland. “We’re not outsourcing production but insourcing people to develop services and apps [in smart cities].”

Stay tuned on www.future-internet.eu and the Future of the Internet to see how research and large scale trials in this area will help to answer this question.