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Technology Will Make Streets Safer

Welcome To The City Of Tomorrow

Cyberspace, in a very literal way, is leaking out into the real world. While mobile phone apps and social media networks used to be seen as novelty toys and nerdy playthings, they've become one of the leading industries on the entire planet. Your mum, uncle, grandma and dog now have their own iPhone; your unborn child has a Facebook account. It is estimated there will be 26.5 billion devices connected to the internet by 2020. They will represent an industry worth £1.2 trillion. What's more, the influence of the interconnectivity they provide is growing, and the world we live and breathe in is increasingly affected by this.

It's a notion known as the 'internet of things', and while it may sound like the words of a tinfoil hat-wearing conspiracy theorist (or a monologue by the main character of a popular Ubisoft franchise), it's a very real concept: today's apps are shaping tomorrow's cities.


Governments, for example, will always improve infrastructure - but even the basics of city evolution are improving. It's all thanks to the mobile phone app.

In Oslo, Norway, environmental officials wanted to know the key areas to build new pavements and where to reduce speed limits. They turned to mobile phones to help them. According to government statistics, children under 12 were the most likely demographic to travel Oslo by foot, so they developed a mobile app which allowed them to report danger on their walks to school. The app took the form of a videogame, encouraging its users to act as an undercover agent and report anything they considered unsafe.

Elsewhere, Philadelphia is said to be saving an estimated $1 million every year by putting sensors on bins that detect their fullness. Thanks to this, bin-men need only come when necessary - instead of the three times daily they were called out before. As well as providing citizens with more peace and quiet, congestion and pollution are lowered - and all thanks to the network. 

In Glasgow, street lights have been programmed to detect noise levels and raise brightness when they sense a disturbance. On top of energy-efficient LED lights, these sensors will save the city up to 50% in lighting costs every year. In London, buses are being fitted with sensors that can bring up-to-the-minute bus locations straight to travellers' mobile phones.

There are dozens of  similar schemes worldwide, all of which can be read about in this fantastic article on BBC news
Cities are beginning to adapt to the little chunks of plastic in our pockets. But could this cause problems?

Bram Fritz, a student in Amsterdam, considered the potential for danger a few years back with his entry into a so-called 'hackathon'. His app, Makkie Klauwe (slang for ‘easy pickings’) used publicly available crime rates, disposable income levels and working streetlamp figures to find out the best place for criminals to seek potential mugging victims in the city. Although it was never released to the public, it won first prize in the 'safety' category of his competition. He aimed to “provoke discussion on the role of open data in our society", and he was successful; the implications of the above technologies  will need to be thoroughly thought through before they become any more mainstream.

Mobile phone apps and social networks have an increasingly influential role in our society. It's worth considering the ramifications of this, as, for better or for worse, hyper-connectivity is where we're inevitably headed.


Emile is a postgrad from the University of Saint Mark and Saint John. He’s hoping to break into journalism or publishing, and won’t stop blogging until he’s managed it! Follow him @EmileAtSMF.

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Technology Will Make Streets Safer Reviewed by Emile Cole on Thursday, October 02, 2014 Rating: 5
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