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Dublin has recently entered a project with Intel to place 200 sensors across the city to gather and monitor environmental data. Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland
big data

These are the challenges faced in making our cities smarter

Numerous cities across the world, including Dublin, are engaging with projects that will make their cities smarter, but what are the concerns?

IF YOU LOOK at the surface of Dublin city, it may seem like very little is happening, but some important projects are under way that will help improve our cities.

Gathering data about the day-to-day life of cities like Dublin have been in the works for years, with the latest example being Dublin City Council and Intel placing 200 sensors across the city to gather and monitor environmental data such as air quality, and noise levels in the city, the aim of making the data available to residents and other parties.

Professor Rob Kitchin, director of the National Institute of Regional and Spatial Analysis at NUI Maynooth, is currently involved in another five-year study featuring Dublin and Boston, looking at how software and technology can influence life in a city, meaning he has much experience in this field and the challenges that are presented as a result.

“The big challenges are getting the data,” explains Prof Kitchin. “A lot of the data is locked inside organisations, you have to persuade them to give it to you, you then have to work out… how to extract value from it.”

While the benefits to having such data are great, the issue of financing and supporting such a service while in austerity is another challenge to face. You can’t prioritise developing a smart city over more immediate concerns, and Prof Kitchin says “it’s not a question that they can just prioritise technological solutions across the city, they [city councils] have to balance it with all of the other competing interests they have to deal with.”

The benefits aren’t just limited to Dublin itself, other cities are involved with their own projects, while collaborating and sharing ideas and findings with each other. One such example is test-bed urbanism, which sees one city volunteer to try out a new technology while other cities see what the data says and lessons learnt, and decide whether to adopt it directly, go for a different approach or do something entirely different.

Naturally privacy and protection of data is another major aspect. While it difficult to foresee every potential outcome and drawback, one of the concerns is de-identification (the process of taking organised data and selectively adding specific sets of duplicate data) which can identify certain overlaps and undo the concept of anonymous data.

Although that said, there are certain protocol in place for Dublin such as a threshold for which you can’t show data if an area has less than five people who have a certain characteristic since it would be possible to identify them if it was compared with other data.

There’s always pluses and negatives and it’s trying to work out what’s best for citizens, what’s best for the state, what’s best for companies and so on and then working out the balance”

“The city will be analysed through its data and software and then that information will be used to aid policy making and actual service delivery,” explains Prof Kitchin. “The questions we need to ask are the extent to which we are happy for that to happen and whether we put in regulations and rules and need protocols and standards to shape that.”

Read: Why the founder of Hailo is betting on drones and robotics >

Read: This startup went from Young Scientist to solving a problem that affects 300m people >

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