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Smart cities aren’t built in a day, by Kees van der Klauw, head of research at Philips Lighting

As technologies evolve, citizens will expect public infrastructure to be as connected as the mobile devices they depend on

Smart cities aren’t built in a day,  by Kees van der Klauw, head of research at Philips Lighting

According to the Hype Cycle, a concept devised by industry analysts Gartner, all emerging technologies attract first hyperbole, then disillusion. The Internet of Things is no exception. Excitement triggered by the burgeoning discussion of smart cities marks an early point in that hype cycle. The reality is still to be seen.


We know, already, that technology is helping us to save energy, streamline management of city services and create a safer environment for citizens. We can confidently assert that many new use cases are still to be discovered. What happens next is not a matter of chance. The platforms that we adopt today determine what is possible tomorrow.


In Antwerp and Eindhoven, for example, cities are becoming laboratories – a real world, real-time petri dish for innovation. In most cases, it is simply not viable to develop new and separate infrastructure for every new service. Cities will be reluctant to invest in one platform for waste management, another to monitor traffic, yet another to gauge consumption of energy or water.


No single use case justifies that investment. Equally true is that multiple use cases cannot become reality without first having a shared platform in place. “Any Smart City infrastructure (must) be sufficiently flexible to accommodate future needs and scalable to cope with hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of connected devices and to manage data from a wide range of sources,” noted Margaret Ranken, principal analyst at Machina Research, in her report Future-proofing IT for Smart City services.


A fundamentally different approach to innovation


The key to fruitful innovation is freedom to experiment. Lighting infrastructure provides that flexibility in a cost-effective way. Installation costs of energy-efficient LED lighting are offset in savings from reduced energy consumption. In 2016, Los Angeles reported savings of almost $9 million in energy savings from remote management of more than 110,000 connected LED street lights retrofitted with Philips CityTouch “connector nodes”.


The move to LED is already well underway. Of about 300 million street lights worldwide, only 12% are LED. As more cities switch to LED by retrofitting city street lights, we are at a critical juncture for the lighting industry. When cities seize the opportunity to adopt intelligent lighting networks, they create a smart city platform for other applications supported by embedded sensors and data.


The long life of LEDs, which typically will function for 15 years of more, poses a particular challenge. After the point of installation, that longevity may deter further investment in infrastructure. To enable other digital services, it is important that city planners make the right choices. Big companies like Philips Lighting will build these platforms, but their purpose is to enable agile experimentation – a shared endeavour, reinforced by joint learning.


Increasingly, cities are collaborating with start-ups, SMEs and creative partners to find winning applications that enhance communications, services and well-being. Not everything that is technically possible will be useful or economically viable, but the public interest is served by sharing information that could be beneficial for, say, public safety.


Not just technology


Innovation will be helped by close cooperation between the ‘quadruple helix’ of government, academic, industry and citizens. With so much at stake, governance is an important concern. Smart cities are no longer a “technology play”, in the sense that strategic choices can be made solely to investors or developers.


Citizens need to be involved and engaged in designing our smart cities. Public interest concerns such as privacy, security and upgradability are critical to building confidence. Testing applications, joining pilot projects and contributing feedback to large-scale experiments are all ways for citizens to determine which applications and use cases to pursue.


Notwithstanding the hype, early signs are encouraging. As technologies evolve, citizens will expect public infrastructure to be as connected as the mobile devices they depend on to find information, navigate urban spaces and manage resources. The Economist Intelligence Unit has reported that citizens are willing to share data that helps improve infrastructure and services.


In the city-as-laboratory, lighting infrastructure is an installed base of ‘horizontal’ infrastructure for the Internet of Things. New applications – ‘verticals’ – will bring profound change in the interaction between cities and citizens. “Digital tools that help business and citizens participate in urban planning and policy-making…could unleash a wealth of new insights that will ultimately make cities smarter, more resilient and more sustainable,” found the EIU Empowering Cities survey.


Watch Kees van der Klauw discuss why smart cities aren’t built in a day at Smart Cities World’s YouTube channel at


Kees van der Klauw is Head of Research for Philips Lighting, and chairman of the Alliance for Internet of Things Innovation, the largest European IoT ecosystem. He previously held senior positions in

Philips Flat Panel Displays, Philips Consumer Electronics and was CTO of Philips Television, Monitors and Professional Displays business. Kees joined Philips Lighting in 2009, where he held positions as Chief Architect and R&D Manager for Professional Lighting. Kees studied electronics engineering at the Delft University of Technology, where he received a Ph.D. in semiconductor devices (CCD’s).


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