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Using digital technologies to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

Provide a case study on how digital technology is used to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
People bike riding through city
© RMIT 2023

The United Nations estimated that, in 2007, more people lived in cities than outside them for the first time in human history (United Nations, 2018).

It is projected that, by 2050, more than two-thirds of people will live in cities (Our World in Data, 2019). As urbanization has continued, development in many of the world’s cities has failed to keep pace with the movement of people into them. The result, in many cases, is roads clogged with traffic emitting harmful gases into local environments and the atmosphere.

Urgent action is required to ensure that sustainable modes of transport such as walking and cycling, are made much safer. But many who use healthier (and often quicker!) ways of commuting, such as cyclists, often find themselves in danger on the roads. In the UK in 2016, 18,477 cyclists were injured in road accidents, of which 3,397 were seriously injured and 102 killed (Full Fact, 2018). The number of cyclists killed on British roads increased by 40% in 2020, official statistics show.

Even the famously cyclist-friendly Netherlands has seen a recent increase in the deaths of cyclists on the road (NL Times, 2021). While this belies the fact that the Dutch use bicycles for 27% of journeys compared to 2% in the UK (Cycling UK, 2022), cycling infrastructure takes time to build and quicker solutions to the problem of dangerous cycle routes are welcome.

The smart city as an integrated living solution that links many life aspects such as power, transportation, and buildings in a smart and efficient manner to improve the quality of life for the citizens of such city.

Using technology to build cycling infrastructure

The technologies used in this case are simple – the humble bicycle light – and complex – GPS tracking and big data.

In additions to selling a range of award-winning bike lights which help to keep cyclists safer on the roads, See.Sense also produces GPS tracking tools. These tools allow ‘every journey to be seen’, anonymously tracking thousands of journeys and recording data as varied as road quality, collisions, swerving, cyclist survey reports, time spent in traffic, and CO2 saved. Data are collected by the company’s GPS products monitor the rider’s environment up to 800 times per second. The system collects data from See.Sense devices and transmit them to the cloud either directly or via Bluetooth device and mobile app. See.Sense creates data dashboards for visualization, reports, and application programming interfaces (API) and to support users, offer data analysis insights, and report on findings.

See.Sense’s system not only collects data automatically through tracking speed, direction, and route data, but also allows users to input data themselves. Cyclists can record, using the See.Sense mobile app, issues such as cars passing too close, collisions, potholes, and obstructions, creating an invested community of cyclists who contribute to individually to making the collective safer. See.Sense sells these data to planning organizations and cities, which can then use the aggregate data to better plan urban developments for safety.

The use of big data and analytics in this case allows cyclists to benefit indirectly from a community of active and passive data collectors in a similar way to drivers’ use of Google Maps for journey planning and updates. City planners can use the data to ensure that changes they make to road infrastructure promote safe cycling.

Barriers, problems, and challenges

The main challenge to the adoption of See.Sense’s GPS tracking tools is the rate at which the small company can produce and market its products. See.Sense used crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to fund the production of an anti-theft GPS product in 2022 (Kickstarter, 2022) and has funded products through seven successful crowdfunding initiatives. Since the crowdfunding ended successfully, getting parts for their tools has been the biggest challenge.

Lessons learned for other organisations wanting to implement a similar program

  • The See-Sense example shows the importance of businesses looking for opportunities to support and encourage low-carbon activities. Big data can be captured and utilised a myriad of ways to support low carbon activities and consumption – it’s a question of imagination, skills and backing.
  • Big data analytics has huge potential to enhance smart city services. There is potential for organisations to mine data sources from smart phones, computers, environmental sensors, cameras, GPS (Geographical Positioning Systems), with ethical and privacy constraints.
  • Without substantial financial backing for product development and marketing, the manufacture and sales of the product can be slow.
  • In Google Maps the GPS route-planning market already has a huge competitor. Although Google Maps does not currently offer exactly the same service as See.Sense, it would take little effort on Google’s part to compete with a company in this market.
  • In general, the big challenges for using big data include collecting the data, which is often complicated by the existence of multiple sources with different formats and types and different usage and access policies. In addition, the unstructured nature of the data make it hard to categorize and organize and an easily accessible way for applications to use.
© RMIT 2023
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