A few months ago, Santander, a port city of 180,000 in the north of Spain, received a delegation of executives from Google, Microsoft, and the Japanese government. The delegates did not come to see the headquarters of the Santander bank, one of the largest financial institutions in the world. They came literally to walk the streets.
They wanted to see firsthand the miracle of Smart Santander, a whole city converted into an urban laboratory for the so-called Internet of Things. The result in an e-administration that improves services to city residents.
The key to the system is mostly invisible: 12,000 connected sensors under the pavement, on street lamps, in rubbish bins, and on city buses. On some small streets, the lamps detect the ambient light and dim themselves if no one is around, saving a significant amount of money in electricity and maintenance. Rubbish bins ask to be emptied when they are full, and sensors measure and transmit information about temperature, noise, and pollution levels to the city's control center. Residents can access the same information from the Smart Santander website and city apps on their tablets and smartphones.
The system is paying off. Santander is already saving 25 percent on electricity and 20 percent in garbage collection. And that doesn't account for people's satisfaction and their pride in being part of this exciting project.
The Smart Santander project is part of a European Union Smart Cities initiative. Three years ago, the city won a competition and a grant of €8 million ($11 million) to install the sensors. The project started at the University of Cantabria. Now it is a showcase for bigger cities.
Recently, the city government won another grant of €2.4 million ($3 million) to improve and develop applications to help city residents participate in the city management using their smartphones. Citizens use the PulsodelaCiudad (City Pulse) app to communicate with the municipal government. They can get information about services, submit ideas, and report things that need to be fixed. For instance, if you see a faulty street lamp, a pothole, or something else that needs attention, you snap a picture with the smartphone app. The information, including GPS coordinates, is sent to the command center. The city is committed to solving issues submitted this way within a week.
The city's command center is equipped with a large digital map showing every smartphone using the app. To protect people's privacy (and comply with Spain's strict privacy regulations), the city doesn't register users; the app knows only that someone is logged on. However, perhaps because of the relatively small population of Santander, residents do not seem to be concerned about privacy, which could be an issue in bigger cities.
Another app, SmartSantanderRA, uses augmented reality to show city services and businesses in real-time at any location where the user points a smartphone camera. The city's website says:
The App includes information about 2700 places in the city of Santander divided in different categories: beaches, park and gardens, monuments, Points Of Interest (POI), tourism offices, shops, art galleries, museums, libraries, culture events agenda, shops, public buses, taxis, bikes, parking places, etc.
Smart Santander features an app for citizen access to information. (Source: Smart Santander)
Smart Santander demonstrates the potential not only for savings but also for citizen engagement in municipal services. Its example should encourage and inspire efforts in Europe and elsewhere.
"Good to see cities such as these emerge as "smart" environments.",
Agreed. This also shows that it can be implemented anywhere. So many third world countries (with proper funding assistance) can built prototype urban areas to show case how technology can assist in making managing cities more feasible, less time consuming and more efficient.
Re: Cities are getting smarter This is a smart thought Nicole: to gain reputation by being smart! Not only cities, universities could benefit from operating more efficiently. Academic/business incubators can form partnerships to create smarter campuses. Say, a real estate developer invests in building more efficiently run dorms. The technology is the result of academic research. The city government provide tax incentives to the developer. With trials and errors, the dorm model can grow into a neighborhood model, and eventually into a town. Such project brings to academia research opportunities and funding. It brings knowledge and business opportunities to the cities and real estate developers who invest in such project.
Re: Cities are getting smarter Nicole, The great thing about this article is that companies and universities came together to build this with Grant Money. I'm wondering if Cities will spend the money to do this if they didnt have Grant Money or extra sources of funds coming in from say the Federal Government?
Re: Cities are getting smarter This is really cool, Pablo, thanks for writing about this for us.
This blog, and the mention of Chattanooga, have me thinking about how there's an opportunity here for lesser known cities to make a name for themselves by emerging as "smart" environments. This is easier to do for less-populated cities (as you've indicated Santander is), and it's a great way for such cities to gain international attention. Were it not for Chattanooga's tech efforts (those mentioned here, as well as others), I'd likely never have heard of it. Same goes for Santander. Good to see cities such as these emerge as "smart" environments.
Re: Cities are getting smarter Pablo, These apps are really useful when you find issues you want to see corrected. Hopefully the cost does go down to get all the sensors installed and fully operational within cities around the world.
its really a great idea. We'll have to keep an eye on Chattanooga, TN and see how it works for that city.
Re: Cities are getting smarter Dave, many cities are using apps to enegage residents. The benefits are enourmous as they get first hand information about things to fix, issues and suggestions.
The sensors are only installed in public places, such as parks, busses, street lamps and garbage bins. The use of CCTV cameras is limited to public buildings, due to the strict privacy regultaions in Spain.
Now several cities are looking s t the results. Recently the city of Chattanooga (TN) visited Santander to start collaboration between the city governments and the Universities.
ABout cost, I believe it could be less. Now the industries involved are paying for new sensors because they want to test the solutions in the real world.
Cities are getting smarter The City of Glendale CA (my hometown) has an app called "MyGlendale" that does the same thing as City Pulse app does for Spain. I recently used it to report illegal dumping of a truck front end in the alley behind a building that I go to regularly. The city sent someone out to pick it up within 5 days (free of charge). But i can take photos of various issues i may find in my day to day travels and send them in complete with GPS coordinates. Its a great system indeed. I'm glad that other cities are getting on the bandwagon with this type of technology. Of course the City of Glendale doesnt have the sensors placed all over the city. But we have smart meters on all of the homes and are upgrading all the city power grid.
The Smart Santander Project sounds like a great idea that other cities should follow.
Without Grants would this project still cost $14 Million to implement and monitor? what are the privacy concerns that the people may have/had?
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