Cities are growing smarter by the minute, turning into testing grounds where IT developers break in their new technologies. Lars Hartmann, Senior Sales Director for Germany/Austria/Switzerland/Russia at Aruba, a California-based network solution provider, explained why garbage bins need sensors, when human chip implants will be introduced, and whether technophobia and consumer conservatism can hinder innovation in an interview with Invest Foresight.
– Smart city systems are among of the most important business lines at Aruba. Since you are already familiar with the level of technology development in Moscow, do you think this city is smart enough?
– This is my first time in Moscow, and the visit is too short. I’m not sure that I have seen all the tech innovations you have. But judging by external signs, and in comparison with other major cities that I visited, Moscow seems very modern. Given the size and population of the Russian capital, one can say that the city certainly has the potential to become a SmartCity soon.
– When we say SmartCity, what do we mean in the first place?
– Different people have different answers to this question. For me personally, a smart city begins with an online search for a parking space and paying for it by using a mobile app. Convenient interchanges between the different modes of transport are also important – I mean the city provides me with the opportunity to change from a car-sharing vehicle to a personal one or helps me plan a complex travel using public transit with convenient ticket purchase. The next thing would probably be its cleanliness, which today implies sensors on trash containers that indicate they are full, so that they can be serviced on call, not on schedule.
All official formalities are fast and convenient in a smart city, of course. For example, if I need a new passport, I can get it digitally. This saves me and the government both time and money.
– So you mean to say that smart is “efficient, convenient and adaptable to changes.” How can this be achieved?
– There are four main components. Firstly, there must be sensors for primary collection of information; secondly, a data network. Next, the system needs solutions that protect its data from compromise or theft; and finally, data processing centers, where information can be stored and analyzed, and used for decision-making.
Here at Aruba we are responsible for two components of this system, which is network development and security. I’ll give you an example. Let’s say that a city government decides to provide free public Wi-Fi at a big flower festival. This solution combines convenience and security because the system may include, for example, surveillance cameras. Another one of the recent real-life cases is embedding Wi-Fi hot spots into new lighting columns along city roads.
– What kind of business clients are mainly interested in these products?
– A lot depends on the country and the market but communications and security are the two elements that are essential to almost any industry. There are two areas that really win from these solutions. They are healthcare facilities (clinics and hospitals) and public spaces such as stadiums, metro stations and public grounds. Moreover, we are starting to work with more retail customers such as outlet chains, operators and management companies of large shopping malls that are seriously pressured by online retailers such as Amazon or Zalando.
Another trend is large orders from higher education institutions. For its efficient operation, a modern university needs mobile internet access for its faculty and students as well as tools for organizing classes. For example, Aruba implemented a solution for dynamic reallocation of classrooms based on actual attendance at the University of Hannover. There was also a similar case at Oxford.
I can’t help but mention industrial companies for which integrating IT with production technologies is becoming a necessity. These days one infrastructure may be used to manage both office environment and production. We are developing joint solutions for such purposes together with our partners involved in production automation such as Siemens.
– Can you tell us more about applications in the healthcare industry?
– As we already decided in the beginning of this conversation, in a smart city every organization must be connected to a digital environment. In healthcare, we call them ‘medical grids’ that can be used by both staff and patients and contain information on doctors and available equipment. Medical grids are supposed to protect sensitive data while remaining highly accessible.
But the network’s entire potential can be unlocked only if it will be used to manage clinical processes, for instance, managing hospital beds. The solution to manage hospital beds is a separate software product; we can build it in to identify each bed and its location in the clinic and to see if it is vacant. So the number of these beds can be reduced. Using the same infrastructure, we can organize navigation in the hospital so that patients can find their way around the clinic using an app. This system is already working at a Stockholm hospital. In addition, there are usually many elderly people at hospitals, and they can be given bracelets that will let the personnel know that the patient has gone too far away from the clinic, crossed the ‘virtual fence’ and might need help.
– To elaborate on the situation, do you think that people will be getting chip implants in the near future? It seems that in a smart city, a person is not a subject but an object.
I believe this must be introduced on a voluntary basis. A bracelet that I can take off is one thing, but the chip implant under my skin is another story. But I cannot rule out the possibility that we will have mandatory microchip implants someday.
– There is an opinion that the further development of, say, telemedicine depends exclusively on the development of 5G networks. Are there other solutions given that the Russian government does not provide frequencies for the new generation networks?
Ten years ago, providers of mobile services and equipment vendors promoted the 3G and 4G technologies in the same aggressive way, claiming that these networks will replace Wi-Fi. But it turned out that these technologies can perfectly coexist and complement each other. I am sure it will be the same in the case with 5G. In fact, 5G and Wi-Fi-6 are technically the same, but the five-generation network signals will bounce off buildings instead of penetrating them, so the most economically viable solution would be to deploy 5G outside and Wi-Fi-6 inside the buildings. Aruba has technologies that provide a roaming between these two networks.
– According to opinion polls, many people fear various kinds of radiation. Have you encountered cases of radiation phobia?
– Fear is basic human condition. Just imagine we will say that the blue floor in the room causes headache – and there will always be at least one person who will immediately feel this effect simply because the floor is blue. But seriously speaking, as producers of the equipment used in medical institutions as well, we must comply with the highest requirements both in healthcare and environmental protection. Our equipment is eco-friendly and non-hazardous.
– When will cities become smart? Let’s talk about capitals. Or maybe, small cities and towns are easier to turn smart?
– I can only imagine. This may take a decade; much here depends on the government’s efforts. Retail businesses can easily calculate payback period and make a decision regarding IT infrastructure investment, while local governments solve other issues – for instance, they make attempts to reduce urban air pollution and improve motorway capacity. I believe we should think of some sort of smart zones – for instance, a smart pedestrian road, or a smart waste disposal system. Each segment will present its specific difficulties.
We are currently working to create s fully automated system for controlling road traffic through traffic lights in a German city. We have a great deal of analytical effort to do to prevent traffic accidents. It will take a while as the government is essentially a conservative institution, in my opinion.
– And what about people? How fast do they adapt to change?
– This largely depends on their age. Young people adapt to new things more quickly and they abandon their habits fast as well. I am a sort of an old-school person, I still use Facebook. But I keep hearing young people say, “Facebook? What is it for? We’re on TikTok.” And I go, “What is TikTok?” Yet, we are all clients of retail outlets. I am fine with using shopping mall apps in my phone as soon as they are useful and help me to make a purchase list and be quick to put items in the cart. This is not about users’ habits but about a proposal’s relevance. As soon as I am offered a necessary service in the right place at the right time, I will continue using the app; in case it does not fit my consumer scenario, I will simply delete it.
By Anna Oreshkina