Charlotte Golunski, co-founder of Sense, on how wearbles can transform the capital
Cities are coming under increasing pressure from an exploding urban population. According to recent figures from the World Health Organisation, the urban population in 2014 accounted for 54% of the total global population, up from 34% in 1960, and this figure continues to grow rapidly.
The urban population boom has created a number of pressures on vital public services such as transportation systems, utility supply and sanitation.
However, recent technological advancements around wearables and the Internet of Things have the potential to revolutionise the way our cities are run and tackle these challenges head on.
From managing traffic levels to flood alert systems, intelligent hardware and software is already being implemented by planners to make our cities more efficient and functional to live in.
In London, we have seen the introduction of smart bins and contactless technology for Oyster card users. But these are only baby steps on the road to achieving a fully blown connected city.
Comparable global hubs such as Barcelona and Singapore have already stolen a march in the smart cities stakes. Given London’s thriving technology sector and expertise in Internet of Things, we should be in pole position to take advantage of the smart cities opportunity that lies before us – but in order to do this, we need to do more to encourage investment in these smart technologies.
Gartner predicts there will be 25 billion connected devices by the end of 2020 – or three for every person on the planet. As the number of connected devices continues to rise, global cities such as London will require major updates to its existing infrastructure.
Wearable devices are a driving force behind the growth of connected devices. The upcoming launch of the Apple Watch in April will likely represent a crucial tipping point to take wearable devices into the mainstream.
From marketing and entertainment to retail and travel, wearables have the potential to completely change the way citizens interact with a city’s surroundings.
The latest innovations in wearable software, such as Sense’s recognition technology, present new opportunities for city support organisations and planners. Sense’s software allows users’s devices to recognise the images, objects and sounds in the world around them, and then provides information or content about what they are seeing and hearing. This could be used in a multitude of ways to benefit London’s infrastructure and economy.
For example, Transport for London could offer Londoners instant travel updates on their wearable device as soon as the person just looks at a Tube map, a TfL logo or an underground sign. This could help to ease congestion by directing transport traffic flows at peak times.
A world with wearables could also boost London’s tourist economy, as visitors to museums and galleries could gain more information about exhibits or works of art by simply looking at them. Likewise, the retail industry could also benefit, with shoppers on Oxford Street able to see product price comparisons just by looking at an item on a billboard.
The use cases for wearables and connected devices are endless. But to realise the full potential at an individual and macro level, we need to see greater collaboration between business leaders, government and the technology community. In particular, our cities infrastructure needs to keep pace with advancements in software and hardware.
With record levels of digital businesses, tech investment and a high concentration of hardware and software developers, London has all the right ingredients to become a global smart city pioneer.
Charlotte is co-founder of Sense, an intelligent recognition platform for wearables and other smart devices. Backed by Invoke Capital, the software represents a significant development in the application of machine learning, and forms part of a wider move to step away from text-centric ways of interacting with information.