Interview with Epko van Nisselrooij, BDM for Smart Cities
How IoT Sensors, Connectivity and Data are Enabling the Smart City
The forecasts for 2050 say that 70 percent of the world‘s population will live in metropolitan areas. This may sound good, but how will the cities react to the growth? City administrations, authorities and many other organizations have already been confronted with major challenges – and are advised to work on a plan for the future. Lots of companies develop proposals on how cities can become more efficient, environmentally-friendly and, in particular, smarter. The purpose: saving resources and increasing the quality of life of the residents. Epko van Nisselrooij, Business Development Manager for Smart Cities at Axis Communications, gives GIT SECURITY an insight into the possibilities that IP technologies may provide.
GIT SECURITY: If you look up the term Smart City in a search engine on the Web, you will find lots of different websites and terms. What is your definition of a Smart City?
Epko van Nisselrooij: Lots of companies focus on individual aspects such as parking, healthcare, energy or transportation; everything under the slogan „smart“. At Axis we took a different approach; for us „smart“ also means using networking technologies that are based on data. What is important here is that Smart City projects usually have three common technological key elements: IoT sensors, connectivity and data. The ‚sensors‘ are all integrated devices that deliver information to the network and, in our case, are IP cameras. The ‚connectivity‘ will be ensured by fixed or wireless networks and ‚data‘ means the saving, analysis and presentation of real-time or historical data. A powerful platform will be created if these three items are connected. On this basis, city administrations, public authorities or offices can trace processes and procedures much more efficiently and take decisions based on data.
Can you give us a practical example of a Smart City application?
Epko van Nisselrooij: Think of smart waste management: sensors in waste glass containers can deliver information about how full they are to disposal companies.
They can then plan the emptying of the individual containers better. Or smart parking solutions: sensors can recognize available parking spots, which are then displayed to the driver either on digital signs along the street or via mobile apps, so the driver can easily find a free parking space.
Axis has become known as a manufacturer of network cameras and safety solutions, and cameras are omnipresent in city life, providing protection and safety.
How does Smart City fit in your concept?
Epko van Nisselrooij: A Smart City can only develop if the citizens feel safe. Who would be interested in free parking areas if it is too dangerous to go into the city center? You are right, our cameras are not new in the cityscape. On the contrary, they are part of the security and protection solution and allow the police and other first responders to react efficiently to incidents and emergencies. But their purpose does not end there. Since the cameras act as sensors, it only makes sense to use the data that they generate.
In what way can network cameras improve life in a city?
Epko van Nisselrooij: Nowadays, cameras collect and analyze the traffic flow with sensors and software. This makes particular sense at public transport hubs. Thanks to data analysis, the transport companies can take preventative action by reacting to increased passenger numbers. For traffic management, integrated sensors can count the vehicles, record their average speed and lane utilization or classify the types of vehicle. Weather factors such as heavy rain and snowfall can also be included. These all assist city administrations to prepare much earlier for traffic jams and to check the situation on video feeds, which will help to monitor the resulting resource deployment and reduce the response times. Or think about environmental protection: network cameras with special sensors can measure environmental parameters such as the air quality, the concentration of gases like CO², the temperature, air humidity or water quality and these can be analyzed using the relevant software. The different data records deliver essential information about the condition of the air, pollution levels or weather conditions and can be used for efficient urban development, traffic planning, environmental protection or preventive measures.
You have already started work on Predictive Analytics – this has to do with crime and disaster prevention – and work out corresponding solutions together with your business partners. Can you give us a practical example of a completed project?
Epko van Nisselrooij: The ‚Green Light Project‘ safety initiative in Detroit, for instance. Crime prevention is being supported by intelligent surveillance here. It allows the authorities to automatically identify potential incidents so they can then respond more rapidly. The story behind this is that, in 2015, city officials found out that a high number of violent crimes took place near gas stations. The best chance for the police to prevent or stop crimes in a city is to intervene as rapidly and with as much information as possible. If police officers get into a situation unprepared, it will be more difficult to control. As well as a comprehensive information campaign for service station operators, the police now also use video surveillance. Simply the installation of more cameras was not the approach, but the networking of the existing video streams from the station operators, which are now made available to the police in real time. And the results are very worthwhile – the number of violent crimes has been reduced by 50% and other companies are also interested in participating in the ‚Green Light‘ project.
Let’s talk about ‚The safety of safety‘. There is an overlap between the subjects of ‚Critical infrastructure‘ and ‚Smart City‘. Cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure are extremely relevant for all citizens, so how do you see this issue in the Smart City projects that you mentioned?
Epko van Nisselrooij: Cybersecurity is essential, and there is no exception. The technological aspects of Smart Cities such as connectivity, big data and IoT make cities even more vulnerable. Nevertheless we cannot delude ourselves – Smart City projects are also a potential target for cybercriminals. Addressing those threats can only be achieved in cooperation with companies and different interest groups. It is only possible to be secure if all interested organizations in the urban ecosystem comply with the security policy standards. In this context, cybersecurity is not a universally applicable solution or a product, but should always be established according to the particular requirements. There are a number of rules that need to be taken into account: it is essential that integrators and installers keep installed devices current with new updates and apply a professional virus scanner. Some important points are setting up a strategy for passwords, managing remote access and assigning responsibility for the regular maintenance of software and networked devices. Sales channels such as Value-Added Distributors should also consider the subject, in particular when devices are purchased from a manufacturer or sold under another brand, i.e. OEM/ODM devices. In such cases, transparency is decisive. As a manufacturer of appliances, Axis, for example, is obliged not to create any deliberate ‚back doors‘ or to use hard-coded passwords. Updates and affordable device management are as relevant as the honest communication of weak points.
In your perception, how much do municipalities and the citizens themselves demand Smart City projects and ideas? After all, public funding of the appropriate digital infrastructure and platforms will be required.
Epko van Nisselrooij: Demand is definitely growing, in particular in the Benelux countries. The German-speaking region is more cautious. We often notice in inquiries that the general desire to become a ‚smart‘ city is strong, but then the implementation is poor. We recommend cities to first produce an analysis of the current situation on the basis of comprehensive data and then to target some selected areas where the first initiatives can be implemented.