Tomorrow’s city, bikes, robots, low pollution – and no shops?
Posted on 27th June 2018
If you are one of our regular readers then you’ll know that several of my colleagues have written about the pros and cons of smart cities, and we have also expressed a wide range of opinions about the ways, both good and bad, in which technology is changing our world.
Today, I’d like to return to the smart city theme, largely because I’ve been reading a lot about it, mainly on the BBC website. There, I found an interesting article about the increased use of bicycles as a means for getting round urban areas. And as a mark of China’s increasing impact on the world, it turns out that the biggest bike-sharing operator (the Uber of the bicycle world) is a Chinese company called ofo, which has 3M daily users in 34 cities across that country and also operates in a further 154 cities across the world. The difference between ofo and the better known (in the UK at least) “Boris Bikes” of London is that ofo’s bikes don’t have to be deposited in a dock but are just found via an app and can just be left wherever the users have finished with them. This leads to problems with discarded bikes, as has happened in Oxford, but in principle I’m all for at least trying this out in some more cities in the UK.
However, there is another problem. Given that Glasgow is one of the most polluted cities in the UK, it occurs to me that we have a Catch-22 here. Although it makes sense to cycle as it will make you fitter (something we could also do with given the obesity crisis in this country), there is an issue with cycling along roads as polluted as, say, Hope Street in Glasgow. Fortunately, there is a plan to restrict the volume of the most polluting cars in Glasgow city centre (and other Scottish cities), but it will take until 2022 before this is fully operational. It can’t come quickly enough in my opinion, but I fully recognise the problems this creates for everyone who was encouraged by previous governments to buy a diesel car and who will now see it plummet in value. Here, the incentive for manufacturers to devise electric vehicles that will travel more than 120 miles with the radio and heating on is obvious, but we’re not quite there yet.
Talking of heating, another idea for our urban areas comes from Italy, where in April this year you could experience four seasons in one day (I know we can do this in Scotland but Italy is different). This took place in four pavilions in the main square in Milan, with technology controlling the environment in each to create all four seasons at once. I don’t know about you, but the idea of having a summer pavilion in the middle of winter rather appeals.
Then there is another square, this time in Barcelona, where the persistent partying and noise meant that residents couldn’t get to sleep. Sensors that detect noise (and also pollutants) were placed around the square and showed that the volume of sound were above the recommended limits. The police moved in to clear the square at 23.00 every night, bin-lorries clear up more early and flower beds have replaced seats. This is great, although in truth I fail to see why technology was necessary if the problem was obviously so bad.
Finally, we go to China and Dubai. In the former country, robots are now a common sight at airports and train stations. One of these is called the E-Patrol Robot Sherriff and it works at Zhengzhou East Railway Station in Henan. This robot can recognise faces and thus, in theory, track known criminals and “suspicious people.” More worryingly, it is fitted with an electrically charged riot control tool.
In Dubai, another robot has been given policing duties, or, as the company that produces them said, it exists “to help citizens in an innovative and engaging way, and it is located by now in tourist attractions and shopping malls.” Helping citizens in engaging ways could cover a multitude of sins!
All of which makes me wonder what will reduce shopping in our town centres most quickly – Amazon and Google, the pollution, the Orwellian robots or the fact that it’s difficult to carry much shopping on a bike…?
Michael Phair, Be-IT
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