Written by Vitor Pereira
Porto wants to take the lead in research, development and promotion of new technologies in the city. The Conference “Future Cities 2014”, took place last week in the old monastery of São Bento da Vitória demonstrated just that, with the presentation of numerous solutions that are being developed under this project which started in 2013 and is coordinated by the Competence Centre for the Cities of the Future of the Faculty of Engineering, University of Porto.
The project brings together a kind of university consortium (University of Porto and University of Aveiro) municipalities, companies and even ordinary citizens who can volunteer to be a “living sensor” in the city with an app for smartphones “SenseMyCity”.
Financed by EU funds and with a total investment of almost €2.5 million, the idea, according to the coordinator João Barros, is to “transform Porto into a living laboratory.” For this purpose, hundreds of sensors were installed by the city, about 800, as well as on public transport and ex. vehicles of trucking companies. “These devices communicate wirelessly all the information they capture to the so called ‘cloud’ and from there we can extract knowledge about what goes on in the city and provide new services to citizens,” explained the project coordinator. “In addition to the acquisition and installation of equipment we could also hire three postdoctoral researchers and several technicians, thus contradicting this brain drain that we have suffered. We have enough critical mass with over 60 enterprise partners to begin making a difference here in the city of Porto”, underlined the person responsible.
The concept is not new, there are startups that already produce these devices intensively. In the specific case of communication between vehicles, yes, it is obvious to all that the future involves the interaction between vehicles. (See text of V2V in the USA).
These were the technicians and business partners who attended the Future Cities event and explained in detail the current planning for these projects.
The mayor of the city of Porto, Rui Moreira, highlights this project in the sense that “it will improve the lives of the people of Porto and prepare and solidify the future.” The mayor assures that “Porto is and will always be an ally of good ideas”, underlining the need for an ambitious development strategy in such a way that Porto will become “a regional and international reference”, connected to the Europe of innovation and creativity.
But, where is the creativity?
It should not be difficult to fulfill this purpose, Porto is a cosmopolitan city, it can naturally occupy a prominent place in the national and international panorama of Smart Cities or as an example of “City of the Future”.
However, at the conference of the Faculty of Engineering of Porto there was too much technical information. We could expect nothing else, once the project is designed, like others in the country and in the world, in the academic community linked to the “practical” engineering aspects. The technology and engineering are of fundamental importance to move towards improving the quality of life of citizens. In many and varied aspects. In the cities that embrace technology, there is an openness to embrace simultaneously, creativity, ideas, participatory planning and social integration. A project like the “Future Cities” while being a “living laboratory” it must integrate other faculties of the University of Porto. It can invite, designers, artists, architects and all types of creative artists. They must call them, despite asking for contributions through the website and invite them to collaborate. Yes, creativity was in a minority in this conference. And that is countercyclical with the remaining events of its kind in that creativity has long been assumed as the way out of the problems that technology mass ends up bringing to its cities. This does not mean that the “Future Cities” has no creativity. It has creativity, but perhaps in a misfit scale and if the intention is to prepare projects and proposals for Horizon 2020, as was assumed, much more detailed knowledge will be required.
Manufacturing and placing electronic devices and equipment, sensors and others, is an arduous task. The amount of data that rises to “the cloud” is astronomical. Companies, researchers, startups, artists, curious, etc., are core to the “Big Data” which is really useful for citizens.
“Big Data” + “Smart Brains” + “Creative” = “Big Smart Creative Solutions”
Rui Moreira pointed this out in his speech, the need to involve schools, to place the reference values of the city, such as social components, cultural, scientific in the service of citizens and improving their quality of life, their well being. The mayor wants a “critical spirit”, but on a topic like this, there’s only contributions. Coordinate them all and get satisfactory results, spending a minimum of financial resources on solutions that make the costs almost derisory may be more prudent. Similarly, keep the network of scientific and technological research as nuclear support of all the Smart process can, in the opinion of many, not be fast enough to take the lead and take advantage of all available resources. Transfer this creative and “accelerated” competence to global technology giants, places on the other hand, other matters in perspective. And in the management of cities, citizens still have the final say. As seen, precisely, in the case of Porto.
About Vitor Pereira
“After 20 years of Journalism and Media Professional, I’m dedicated since 2008 to new projects related with Innovation and Technology. Consultant of many municipalities to the Smart Cities theme and Tourism sector based on the newest technologies and communication tools.”