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By 2030, the world is expected to have 43 megacities that host more than 10 million inhabitants, while by 2050 it is likely that 68 % of the world population will live in urban areas, according to a UN report. With continued urbanisation, successful management of cities has become more important than ever. Thanks to its potential to improve the quality of life in areas ranging from energy and environment to transportation and healthcare, the concept of smart cities is increasingly becoming popular.
Although the Internet of Things (IoT) is seen as a key component of smart city initiatives such as improving pollution levels or traffic conditions, its full potential remains untapped. A major obstacle hindering further innovation is the development of vertical silos around IoT data. These affect the ability of developers to produce added value services across multiple platforms and sectors.
The EU-funded bIoTope project has been addressing this issue by running a series of smart city pilot projects in Brussels, Lyon and Helsinki. An additional pilot will be deployed in St Petersburg, Russia.
The project website notes that domain-specific and cross-domain smart city pilots will be utilized “to validate the effectiveness of the bIoTope Systems-of-Systems platform for IoT.” These involve various areas, including electric car charging stations, self-managing buildings and equipment, and smart air quality. They also “provide concrete proofs-of-concept of IoT system composition and interoperability scenarios in smart city environments.” These include smart metering, shared electric vehicles, smart lighting and hyper-local weather data, as well as smart priority lanes for bikes.
Interoperability and Openness
In an opinion piece, Dr. Michelle Supper, forum director of the Open Platform 3.0 Forum, at The Open Group, says: “The use of open, non-proprietary standards will be essential to the future success of smart cities.” Dr Supper explains the process with an example: “Consider an autonomous vehicle taking a smart citizen to an office building. Having delivered its passenger, the vehicle would then connect to the city’s IoT, and communicate with the local facilities to find and select a parking space and charging point. On the way to the parking space, the vehicle may access the city’s weather monitoring and traffic light systems, to exchange information on factors such as safety or road conditions.”
She emphasises the importance of seamless communication between various systems. “Without an agreed standard for data formatting and messaging structures between the system manufacturers, it is unlikely that such interoperability would be possible.”
A key objective of the bIoTope (Building an IoT OPen innovation Ecosystem for connected smart objects) project is to provide “the necessary standardised Open APIs [application programming interfaces] to enable interoperability between today’s vertical IoT silos,” as stated on its website. API refers to a particular set of rules and specifications that software programmes can follow to communicate with each other. Project partners believe the bIoTope platform “enables IoT product and service providers to quickly develop and deploy IoT solutions utilising diverse information sources, which are easily integrated to compose more advanced and higher value solutions without substantial development costs.”