Smart places getting smarter

In recent times, smart city capability helped drive our public health response. As we move into recovery and renewal the notion of connectedness underpins the merging of our physical and digital worlds to deliver “cognitive places”.

The first wave of smart places focused on the digital augmentation of the experience of a particular place. This meant sorting out the ‘digital plumbing’, at its most fundamental level, for instance making sure everyone could access Wi-Fi. Over time, this has shifted into enhancements such as where point tech solutions could augment the experience of living in or visiting a location — such as car park sensors to give an indication of space availability.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, smart city capability has been essential as density and movement data became key to informing the public health response. As we move into recovery and renewal mode, the impetus to re-enliven city centres and combine our “Zoom” life with our “real life” demands that the notion of smart cities gets even smarter.

Future smart cities will be cognitive places: merging physical experience with the digital world; linking your physical journey to your service journey to your online journey. The place itself will learn, through smart materials, loT, computer vision and machine learning, creating a seamless experience across the trajectory of your journey to create personalised, seamless moments that matter.

Cognitive places, however, won’t just be about data insights and point-in-time interactions. The sense of place is built by designing tor mindsets, applying deeply empathetic human-centred design, insight and innovative technology to shape journeys that traverse time and space, incorporating preparation, experience and memory.

Citizens at the centre

Citizens and users must be at the centre of a smart city vision and design to ensure that they delight in the cognitive capability and their experiences are elevated and respected. By respected, we mean that users’ rights and privacy are protected and enhanced; and data insights are ethically used and applied. Smart city capabilities and insights curt e with great responsibilities and the NSW Government’s Smart Places Customer Charter provides excellent guidance on designing, building and using ethical, safe Sinai: city technology.

Digitising the desert

The city of Neom on the Red Sea coast is an example of the next level of smart places. It is being built from the ground up and will be powered by 100% renewable energy with a carbon negative footprint. Based on deep user insights, the city will feature cognitive and sensing capabilities, enabled by a state-of-the-art platform for computing called Nees.

The project includes designing the core automation needed for different sectors, such as environment, governance, travel and infrastructure. All these sectors will share data through an integrated platform, delivering increasing layers of autonomous and pre-emptive actions to achieve services never previously possible a a cognitive place experience. This insight is being connected to create new and enhanced experiences across all aspects of living in a place, from starting a new business to playing golf at the weekend.

One example of using these citizen journeys to connect services might be someone planning a holiday. A resident books a flight to travel overseas. This online action notifies the government affairs sector to automatically initiate and process passport and visa clearance. Sequentially, the transport sector books an autonomous vehicle to transfer the citizen to the airport on the :ravel date, while the energy and water sector schedules an automated reduction in utility requirements for the household during the holiday.

This simple example shows how one isolated use case can trigger multiple automated and pre-emptive actions that completely transform how citizens will live in the place.

Creating an experience economy

Closer to home, as part of its physical renovation, the Australian Centre for Moving Image ACMI) sought to integrate the physical and digital experience for visitors by introducing the “lens”. A physical, handheld device (separate to the user’s own smartphone) that allowed the visitor to digitally interact with physical exhibitions — recording, noting, learning, tagging, commenting. The lens could then be used from home to engage with the ACMI website and facilitate online purchasing, as well as for return visits, creating a portfolio of engagement between the visitor and ACMI.

The lens enables an integrated physical and digital experience for the user. It also allows ACMI to become a cognitive smart place tracking movement data throughout the gallery spaces, gathering real-time insights into what visitors are enjoying or dismis 5 in g and engaging with visitors pre- and post-visit to create sustained, seamless moments that matter.

ACMI exemplifies how public buildings — galleries, libraries, schools, hospitals and courthouses — can become cognitive combining the physical experience with the service or process experience. For example, a day mincourt fraught with stress and anxiety can become a more engaging and transformative experience as integrated digital and physical wayfinding helps a citizen pre-court prepare and plan, and feel safe and connected whilst in the physical building through navigating to safe waiting areas and connecting to services and supports; and post-court understand and action the outcomes of their day in court through follow-up SMS prompts and online engagement ,

Cognitive places enhanced by digital twin capability

Digital twins such as the Government of Victoria’s Digital Twin and Cooling Singapore’s Digital Urban Tvhrin have the potential to enhance the capabilities of a cognitive place by adding additional layers of spatial data to a ‘places’ cognition. Neom demonstrates how a digital twin can enhance cognition through its combining of multiple streams of data.

As integrated physical and digital capability expands and the demand for cognitive places grows, there is the potential to expand digital twins beyond their current spatial remit to encapsulate service and experience twins. Just like current spatial digital twins test innovative ideas such as Cooling Singapore’s digital twin that tests city-wide ideas to reduce the city’s temperature, a service twin could test innovative preventative or early intervention social service offerings, or test integrated and connected whole of city art, entertainment and leisure experiences.

Improving people’s lives

Cognitive place approaches will lead to better outcomes for citizens, communities and public and private businesses that develop and plan services and experiences.

In the case of Neom, it creates a more livable city that better leverages its resources and energy, but also attracts businesses and people to locate there. For ACMI, it’s deeper engagement beyond the physical boundaries of the gallery walls and into people’s homes and lives. For community buildings, the potential impact is personalised and accessible citizen services and supports with improved outcomes over time.

Whilst the focus of each of these projects has been on the citizen or user experience; the digital innovation also allows back of house to plan for, respond to and avoid disruptions through real-time monitoring and predictive analytics — in the era of COVID-19 this creates safer, more pleasant experiences.

In all these cases, the result is tar more than just collecting up the latest technologies and sprinkling them amongst existing physical infrastructure. It’s about deeply understanding how people access, use and interact with the physical space; integrating with the services and experiences that are provided in and around the place; connecting with the virtual or digital experience that overlays our interactions; and creating an experience that resonates for the user beyond time and space.

By Anna Faithful, Senior Client Partner, Publicis Sapient

This article was first published by GovTech Review