Smart Cities Briefing



Galician city begins construction of biodynamic neighbourhood

The city of Lugo is constructing a “multi-ecological” neighbourhood through a project that aims to integrate green master planning into the urban district and address climate change while solving deficiencies highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic. The LIFE Luge +Biodinamico initiative’s residential section will have a low population density comprising 1,200 households, and will use local Galician timber – which contains less embodied carbon than using steel or concrete – as a primary construction material. Construction has also begun on the neighbourhood’s centrepiece, the Impulso Verde Building, which will become a multi-purpose community hub once completed.

Curation Comment

Alongside its choice of construction material, LIFE Lugo +Biodinamico will deploy several bio-based strategies to improve its sustainability, such as in its urban heat network which uses local biomass to supply a biogas plant. A rainwater collection system will capture the water to irrigate the area’s green spaces, and organic waste will be re-used where possible.

Household rooftops will be able to host solar panels while glazed greenhouses will enable controlled-environment agriculture for hydroponic crops, which require fewer resources to cultivate. These strategies are designed to mirror urban farming concepts being employed in other cities, such as San Francisco and Zurich.

In addition to using sustainable building materials, the main Impulso Verde building will be designed to produce enough energy from renewable sources to match its own consumption. The development’s masterplan orients buildings, green spaces and roads to benefit from natural sunlight and winds to boost efficiency and reduce the area’s energy consumption.

Integrating green spaces can have other benefits, including combatting isolation in urban areas and curbing air pollution, and is being adopted elsewhere. Athens’ “pocket park” initiative utilises environmentally friendly materials, such as low-carbon concrete and recycled wood, while Rotterdam recently replaced 48,000 city tiles with greenery as part of its aim to create 20 hectares of green space by 2022.


Consortium develops ‘living bricks’ to generate home energy

A consortium comprising Newcastle University, the University of the West of England and Translating Nature has created an energy- and water-generating microbial solution that can be housed within “bricks” in homes. The Active Living Infrastructure: Controlled Environment (ALICE) group’s prototype brick contains microbes that create energy from liquid waste, which can be turned into electricity or used to make clean water. ALICE also uses biosensors to analyse the microbe’s productivity which can then indicate whether they need to be fed or warmed, and augmented reality software can be used to display the health of the microbes to the household.

Curation Comment

The EU Horizon 2020-funded ALICE project set out with the aim of visualising the internal process of a bioreactor developed for the preceding EU Living Architecture (LIAR) project, which can run on urine and greywater. The rationale for ALICE was to educate users about future sustainability in buildings, while collecting data on the system’s performance. The project is described as a means of using data, bioprocessors, AI, fuel cells and digital displays to form a communications system that “connects humans and microbes”.

The bricks, which can form structural units, could be used to treat wastewater or provide off-grid power supplies in rural communities.

While ALICE is unique, various other architectural projects use biomimicry to take cues from the natural world or integrate living elements into buildings to provide natural services such as air purification, or enhance wellbeing. Natural materials are also increasingly integrated into building structures to reduce embodied carbon, and 3D-printed buildings are being developed based on biological designs such as beetle shells to enhance structural integrity.

Going one step further, another EU Horizon 2020 project, Fungal Architectures (FUNGAR), is looking to “grow” elements of a smart building from mycelium which can adaptively react to light, temperature and air pollution changes through the integration of computing functions into the building fabric.


French city deploys IoT network to optimise public services

Connectivity company Kerlink has collaborated with the French city of Saint-Gregoire to develop an IoT network to cut energy consumption in buildings by 20%, reduce emissions and improve city service efficiency. The company said it wants to demonstrate how both IoT and LoRaWAN networks can improve the management of a small city or town. The project combines the two networks with Saint-Gregoire’s own fibre optic network along with the firm’s Wansey Management Centre, indoor and outdoor Wirnet LoRaWAN gateways and Wi-Fi hotspots. Kerlink collaborated with Sensing Vision on the project.

Curation Comment

Saint-Gregoire partnered with a number of start-ups as part of the Small Smart City project, including Sensing Vision, which has introduced several IoT functionalities relying on a LoRaWAN network, using equipment from its partner Kerlink. LoRaWAN technology consists of low-consumption sensors able to send short signals over long distances and do not require frequent charging or battery replacement. Sensing Vision uses a virtual private network (VPM) to increase security and address a common problem associated with LoRaWAN networks. The use of optical fibre, meanwhile, is said to offer better connectivity than wi-fi and has been touted as crucial for IoT applications.

The LoRaWAN network is used to communicate with sensors placed in public spaces for a range of applications. The monitoring of energy use, paired with AI data analysis, has reportedly saved the city €12,000 ($14,562) in electricity consumption within the first three months. The project also includes the installation of parking sensors and displays showing availability, as well as their incorporation into the Waze app, to reduce the time spent seeking a free space, which represents about 20% of city-centre traffic.

Other uses involve installation of air quality sensors in nurseries and monitoring freezers to prevent food spoilage. Having so far spent €300,000 on the infrastructure project, Saint-Gregoire is planning further uses, according to its mayor, including placing sensors in bins and monitoring water use.


Ford’s Spin to trial remote control parking for e-scooters

Ford-owned Spin is testing three-wheeled e-scooters that can be controlled by remote operators. The teleoperators can move the scooter to an area with more demand or prevent it from blocking pavements and roads. The technology could also be used to deliver a scooter directly to a rider. The three-wheeled Segway T60 e-scooters feature front and rear cameras, as well as sensors from Tortoise. Their more stable structure might also broaden e-scooters’ appeal beyond a very young male demographic. Spin aims to offer in-app scooter hailing later this year.

Curation Comment

Cluttered streets have been among the main negative impacts of e-scooter platforms operating within cities, increasing nuisance to pedestrians. Doctors in some areas have reported an increase in serious injuries due to pedestrians tripping over e-scooters, with the elderly most at risk. As a result, town halls have started to introduce parking regulations and some cities, including ParisStockholm and Seattle, have started issuing fines, forcing companies to ensure compliance.

Tortoise’s solution, first deployed in 2020 through a partnership with Go X, relies on sensors used in smartphones. It can operate with a certain degree of autonomy, with self-driving features to be rolled out gradually in future. According to Tortoise, the technology could allow more people to rely on the e-scooters by increasing availability, while boosting their use in the suburbs, where a parked scooter is unlikely to be used by a different customer. Ford says the third wheel adds stability through enhanced suspension and increased safety through additional braking systems although, like two-wheeled alternatives, Spin scooters are unable to right themselves if knocked over. Ideally, however, remote operators will be able to move an unattended scooter out of harm’s way once it is left vacant.

Other companies are relying on mapping and localisation to prevent e-scooters from cluttering streets. TIER is exploring using positioning to ensure correct parking through a trial of Fantasmo’s high-precision localisation, while Lime has teamed up with what3words to allow reporting of mis-parked scooters.

You might also like

Non-profits call for carbon credits to be excluded from transition plans

What's happening? A group of more than 80 non-profits, including Greenpeace, Client Earth and ShareAction, have issued a statement urging ...

Read more

Nicola Watts
July 10, 2024

Avatar photo

Geothermal power presents opportunity for tech giants to decarbonise spiralling AI energy demand

What's happening? Google’s climate goals are threatened as data centres powering its AI products drive up emissions. Over the past ...

Read more

Dillon Creedon
July 9, 2024

Geoengineering to reduce US heat could worsen European heatwaves: study

What’s happening? The use of the geoengineering technique of marine cloud brightening (MCB) to reduce high temperatures in California could ...

Read more

Claire Pickard
July 2, 2024