Smart cities have the ability — and responsibility — to tackle social issues 

smart cities

With the amount of data available today, cities are constantly innovating, finding new ways to apply insights in ways that benefit citizens. This is no small task, as new technologies are constantly reshaping what’s possible when it comes to using and making sense of data.

Data creates opportunities. Cities are rife with challenges that not only impact their own residents but society at large. IoT, artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies are now poised to address some of the most pressing social challenges, like homelessness, transportation and public safety.

See also: Is location intelligence the key to citizen-centric smart cities?

As cities find new ways to analyze data and extract insights that help solve some of their most immediate challenges, they’re also creating promising assets for tackling issues beyond their borders. Whether it’s Copenhagen’s increase in smart technologies to reduce emissions or New York’s efforts to modernize its subway and ferry systems, cities and the organizations that work with them are tackling issues that have implications on citizens around the world.

Locally accountable and locally empowered

Cities are the source of 80% of our global gross domestic product, 70% of emissions, and consume 66% of our energy. Urban populations are expected to nearly double by the middle of the century, according to the United Nations. This makes cities critical in addressing today’s global economic, social, and environmental challenges.

Cities have their own priorities and are able to explore solving their own challenges with smart technologies. When cities are empowered use such technology to solve local issues, and subsequently share their successes with other cities, we will have the capacity to address global challenges collectively. As we saw in 2006, with cities signing up for the Kyoto Protocol, and more recently, with cities supporting Paris Accord carbon reduction targets, local governments can act within their own districts but impact the world.

City officials have connections to their constituents, local businesses, and organizations. When local officials are successful at addressing local needs, they are strongly supported, and even adored, by their citizens. This aligns interests between the community and its elected officials, and puts those local politicians in powerful positions; officials then have the ability to directly influence change. Cities are responsible for their residents and need to use all available tools and technologies to better the lives of their residents.

Mayor Ed Lee of San Francisco understood that homelessness in his city needed to be addressed in a substantial way, so he launched the Navigation Center to offer shelter to those without a home. The initiative includes a “joint database in which all the departments and organizations involved with it pool shelter guest information, giving case managers real-time access to integrated data.” By sharing data across multiple organizations, the city can now respond quickly to help city residents in need. 

Similarly, the smaller City of Moreno Valley, Calif. responded to citizens’ concern with crime in local parks. After the city implemented a state-of-the-art public safety system, citizens reported that they felt safe again, and are returning to the parks for barbecues and family gatherings.

It takes a village

As cities tackle a diverse set of issues, from energy efficiency to traffic blocks to homelessness, it’s critical that solutions and insights don’t stay in a bubble. Sharing both with other municipalities working on similar challenges will only improve the standard of living around the world.

In recent years, cities have deployed a number of technologies to become smarter and to run more efficiently. Using sensors built into streetlights, for example, Barcelona is able to keep an eye on the amount of rainfall in a given area to ensure the sprinkler systems only run when needed. In Copenhagen, the driverless metro trains will soon respond to demand in real time thanks to IoT sensors in stations that analyze demand data for various rail services, helping the city to improve service while saving on energy and operational costs. These types of technologies are only some of the innovative solutions being adopted by smart cities today, enabling the gathering of an enormous amount of information.

One of the most under-used sources of data available to cities today is video. Thanks to innovations in video analytics, this already abundant source of data can often be used to do everything, from analyzing traffic situations to automatically alerting the police and firefighters when there are public safety incidents that need attention.

There is no shortage of data available to decision makers, but one of the challenges is actually determining how to filter through all the available data and use it in the most beneficial way. The more data shared across internal agencies and organizations, as well as with local businesses and non profits, the more room there will be for innovation to take place, and the more effective cities can be with the resources they have. Cities must learn from each other to avoid making similar mistakes that could hinder progress, and to effectively create the future they seek.

In 2016, Columbus, Ohio was granted significant funding by the government after winning the Smart City Challenge, a contest held by the U.S. Department of Transportation to improve transportation systems states. Ohio has since become a case study for other regions interested in improving their mobility systems and instituting sustainable transportation.

Smart cities can also help other cities that have not added significant IoT capabilities. Cities that are still learning how to adapt to emerging technologies will benefit from the best practices of cities that have already implemented them. This will allow a greater number of communities to work toward solving challenges that can have positive implications for society as a whole. 

Smart cities are learning how to become “smarter” every day. Working together, they are now poised to solve some of society’s greatest challenges. The more cities we have working toward the greater good, the more resilient and prosperous our increasingly global civilization will be as a whole.

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HP launches military-grade VR backpack aimed at professionals

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HP has announced another virtual reality backpack, this time aimed at professionals and the military.

The Z VR Backpack shares design similarities with the Omen X Compact Desktop, announced two months ago, but HP has swapped the gamer look for a rugged exterior and improved the performance.

See Also: HTC launches standalone Vive VR headset in China

The backpack comes with the Nvidia Quadro P5200 with 16GB of video memory, Intel Core i7 vPro processor, and 32GB of dual-channel DDR4 RAM. Customers can choose between the HTC Vive VR, HP Windows Mixed Reality headset, or the Oculus Rift.

To make the Z VR more appealing to professionals, HP has optimized the software for standard VR engines and installed Windows 10 Pro. The backpack has been design to be light, easy to wear, and meet the military grade standard for drop, dust, and water resistance.

The Z VR won’t come cheap, at $ 3,299 without a headset.

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HP, along with Autodesk, Epic Games, Fusion, HTC, Launch Forth and Technicolor, is working on a Mars Home Planet project to show the Z VR performance. The project will simulate a one-million person colony, with the team building the required infrastructure to maintain and grow the colony.

The Mars Home Planet project will allow the science community and others interested to run ideas through the simulation, which uses AutoDesk tools. Researchers will be able to run ideas through the simulation, to see the possible effects.

Users can sign-up today for the initial version.

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Apple patents overlaying details on augmented reality glasses

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Apple has patented a method of overlaying details onto real-world environments, similar to what Google was trying to achieve with Glass.

The user would see details of points of interest, like the names of buildings on Fifth Avenue or the different parts of a car. In the patent, the user clicks the point to see more information, which could include details on the store or a video of what the car part does.

See Also: iPhone 8 may include 3D laser to support AR apps

Apple shows the real-world overlay on the iPhone and iPad for the majority of the patent, filed to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in 2013, but at the end shows how it could be added to augmented reality glasses.

The patent, according to Apple Insider, stems from Metaio, an AR startup that Apple purchased in 2013.

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It is interesting that the patent has become public now, as Apple readies ARkit for iOS 11. It already has IKEA and a few other big names working on AR apps for the iPhone and iPad, and rumors are abound about the company working on AR glasses.

Apple’s executives, far from hiding their interest, have regularly said AR is an area where they see huge potential. Apple CEO Tim Cook said the company is working on a “big idea like the smartphone” in an interview with The Independent, which is as strong a hint as any that a hardware product is on the way.

AR has been heralded as the future of mobile by some, but it is still considered a long way off. The computation required to provide real-time overlay would be massive, which is why Apple may be looking to integrate it on the iPhone and iPad before launching the AR glasses.

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Three things every IoT manufacturer should do to improve security

Male hand pushing emergency red stop button.

There’s no question that the Internet of Things is the new security battleground. Internet-connected webcams, HVAC systems, cars, TVs, watches, printers and more are giving people more use out of their devices. But these devices also open doors to hackers who want to steal corporate data, lasso thousands of devices into botnets that can launch DDoS attacks, or even set off Dallas’ 156 emergency outdoor sirens.

See also: Will these Chinese satellites provide hack-proof data security?

When it comes to security, corporations are struggling to keep up with the speed at which problems evolve. For example, a researcher with Google Project Zero recently discovered a flaw in Broadcom Wi-Fi chips that could allow someone to remotely execute code on affected iPhones, Nexuses and Samsung devices just by being in their general vicinity. Another researcher found 40 zero-day vulnerabilities in Samsung’s Tizen operating system for smart watches, phones, and TVs —  he said the code may have been the worst he’s ever seen.

Meanwhile, a new version of the Mirai botnet was recently discovered to be capable of launching application layer attack, not just DDoSing websites, and turning large swaths of the internet dark.

To combat these issues, companies are constantly inventing new solutions. For example, a new Microsoft project, dubbed Sopris, is aimed at solving some security issues with IoT by redesigning Wi-Fi microcontrollers. And while efforts like this help, more must be done within corporations to address the IoT security problem in a scalable way.

How? Here are three things companies making IoT devices should do to improve the security of their products:

#1: Be accountable

Many companies developing IoT products aren’t technology companies, so they don’t necessarily design products with security in mind, or know the best practices to ensure security. Vendors getting into the IoT market must realize that their devices will have vulnerabilities and that connecting them to the internet increases the likelihood the devices will be attacked or used in attacks. If companies sell products without acknowledging this reality, they have already failed, and are putting not just their customers at risk, but the internet as a whole.

#2: Automatically update

Products that don’t have a way to automatically update are sitting ducks.

For instance, the moment they left store shelves, devices vulnerable to the Mirai botnet were effectively at the end of their life — there was no way to update the devices or to fix the vulnerabilities, so the only option owners of affected devices had was to buy a new device. Device recalls are expensive, so providing a way to update the device is essential in avoiding instant obsolescence, which turns customers off.

Even Windows XP, which had a 10-year life cycle, shipped security patches to customers to install manually. Microsoft planned for customer support and maintenance, like employing more security engineers, over the long run and factored that into the upfront costs or subscription.

In the same vein, Nest charges $ 10 a month for upkeep services, which enables it to make one of the most secure IoT devices on the market.

#3: Embrace disclosure

IoT device manufacturers must also make it easy for ethical hackers to report vulnerabilities to them. Companies should have a vulnerability disclosure process with an easy-to-find email address or web form to which to send bug reports. If they want to encourage more security scrutiny to help them find and fix bugs, companies can also set up a bug bounty program that compensates hackers for reporting vulnerabilities.

No product is immune to bugs, and given how widespread IoT devices have become, and how vulnerable they are to hacking, it’s essential for companies that make IoT devices to take all the precautions necessary to ensure that people’s privacy is as protected as possible.

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Chinese government wants country to be AI leader by 2030

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The Chinese government has released a three-step blueprint, showing how it intends to become the leader in artificial intelligence development and deployment by 2030.

The State Council, the chief administrative authority in China, published the plan last week.

See Also: WeChat’s director of user growth talks up new features for overseas clients

China will look to “keep pace” with all other leading countries in AI by 2020. This means an AI industry worth $ 22 billion and $ 150 billion in related fields, such as self-driving.

From there, the Chinese government will work to have all regulatory and legal framework set by 2025. This will allow operators to understand the rules and better market AI to customers and enterprises, both inside and outside of China.

China is expected to be more complacent about AI development than the U.S. or Europe, where regulators are likely to block AI that could harm citizens. A Forbes report already shows how the government can use facial recognition and AI to track potential “criminals,” seen in the West as a massive breach of privacy.

An innovation center by 2030?

By 2030, the Chinese government hopes to be an innovation center for AI. In the plan, the State Council estimated $ 150 billion in value for the AI sector and $ 1.5 trillion for related fields.

Major Chinese companies, like Alibaba, Tencent, and Lenovo, have already set up divisions for AI exploration and development. Baidu, the most popular search engine in China, has launched a personal assistant and is working on self-driving cars.

It is hard to calculate what country is in front in the AI race, especially since nobody knows where it will end. Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who also founded an AI research startup, has said that the development of general purpose artificial intelligence is an existential threat to humanity, and has said governments should halt development until regulations are in place.

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