Huawei gets Yandex and Booking.com for upcoming mapping service – report

Huawei aims to launch its own business-facing mapping service in October, with Russian internet service company Yandex and Booking.com already embracing the initiative, reports China’s media.

Days after it unveiled its own mobile operating system Harmony OS, Huawei is reportedly preparing to launch its own mapping service, called Map Kit, in October, according to a report by China Daily, one of the key official media outlets in China. The newspaper cited “a source familiar with the matter” (although other sections of the report indicate that source may actually have been the president of cloud services at Huawei’s consumer business group) that Huawei has already recruited as software partners in Yandex, the Russian internet heavyweight sometimes dubbed “Russia’s Google”, and Booking Holdings, the American travel aggregator and parent company of Booking.com, Kayak.com, Cheapflights, etc.

The is a logical move by Huawei when it aims to gain more independence from Google, to prepare for the rainy days if the axe of American ban falls heavy again (there are plenty of signs that it may if the trade war is not solved soon). However not enough details have been disclosed for the observers to evaluate the viability of the initiative.

As its name suggests, the Map Kit is not meant for end users but rather an SDK for application developers to build location-based services on top. Huawei plans to make the software suite available in 40 languages and roll it out in 150 countries. According to the report, the Map Kit will support apps to offer real-time traffic conditions and sophisticated navigation systems as well as support augmented-reality mapping. The report specifically said that the software will be able to recognize a car changing lanes, suggesting extremely high precision of its location data.

The report does not spell out the sources of the location data though. China has launched its own satellite navigation system BeiDou to rival the American owned GPS, Russia’s GLONASS, and the European Union’s Galileo. To couple with the fact that Google services including Google Maps are inaccessible in China, it is safe to bet that in China, Huawei’s Map Kit will gather the location data either directly from the state’s navigation system or through third party, such as AutoNavi (an Alibaba subsidiary).

The partnership with Yandex may indicate that the Russian internet giant will provide location data that is not attainable yet from China’s BeiDou, which aims to provide global coverage by 2020. The line in the China Daily report that “Huawei Map Kit will be connected to local mapping services” suggests that Huawei may also use location data from existing navigation and mapping services in countries it intends to offer the Kit to. This is a common practice in mapping data gathering. Because China’s law bans unofficial navigation and location data gathering, both Google Maps and Apple Maps buy location data from AutoNavi.

Another key missing point in the report is the operating system the SDK will run on. It is highly unlikely that it will operate on Harmony OS, which will not be ready by the targeted time frame of the intended launch of Map Kit: Harmony OS was only introduced on PowerPoint slides at the developer conference when it was unveiled, with no hardware nor user manuals for the developers to try their hands on. Additionally, Harmony OS is meant primarily as an operating system for IoT businesses.

On the other hand, if the Map Kit was to run in the Android environment, it would defeat the very purpose of Huawei becoming more independent of Google.

Large-scale NB-IoT Electric Bike Management in Zhengzhou Wins the GSMA Best Mobile Innovation for Smart Cities in Asia Award

[Shanghai, China, June 27, 2019] The NB-IoT electric bike management system jointly developed by Zhengzhou Public Security Bureau, China Mobile, Huawei and Tendency have won the GSMA Award for ‘Best Mobile Innovation for Smart Cities in Asia’ at Mobile World Congress (MWC) Shanghai 2019.

Huawei smart city PR 20190701

Ritchie (Honghua) Peng(left), Chief Marketing Officer of Huawei’s Wireless Network, accepting the GSMA Award for Best Mobile Innovation for Smart Cities in Asia from John Hoffman(right), CEO, GSMA Ltd

This award is the second award after the Innovative Mobile Service and Application’ award from GTI. The award lends industry-wide prestige and recognition to China Mobile and Huawei’s constant contributions to NB-IoT ecosystem development, and also indicates that the NB-IoT ecosystem has become increasingly mature and will witness an explosive growth in commercial NB-IoT applications.

China is the world’s largest producer and seller of electric bikes. Electric bikes have become an important means of transportation for consumers in China, which has brought great convenience to the daily life of the people. However, electric bikes create urban management, security and safety problems, which are worsening with the widening adoption. According to statistics, 70% of reported theft, 30% of traffic accidents and 9% of fires were caused by electric bikes in Zhengzhou in 2017. There is a strong appeal for a solution that can provide monitoring and positioning service for massive connections in mobility with easy and fast deployment as well as the capabilities in evolution towards 5G, speeding up 2G/3G network refarming.

To address these problems, Zhengzhou Public Security Bureau has been working with China Mobile, Huawei and Tendency for an innovative management system, which is based on NB-IoT E2E solution. Multiple functions can be enabled by equipping existing electric bikes with NB-IoT communications devices and GPS or BeiDou modules, which include: anti-theft tracking, fire warning, power alarms and traffic violation prevention.

The NB-IoT electric bike management system is widely deployed in Zhengzhou of China’s Henan Province, with about 3 million electric bikes connected to the NB-IoT network, with theft and fire protection. NB-IoT electric bikes have become the largest-scale NB-IoT application for a single service in the world and the success of this service created a blueprint for other transportation applications. For operators, the system can reuse LTE network resources to greatly reduce deployment costs, while developing a large number of IoT users, and creating new revenue-generating services in partnership with transportation department and insurance companies. For city management authorities, the system provides a crucial tool to track and defeat theft, reduce the potential fire hazards, and achieve traffic monitoring, and improve urban traffic capacity. For electric bike riders, it provides positioning services that increase the efficiency of riding, increases safety through fire warnings, and provides property security through anti-theft capabilities.

This award not only embodies Large-scale NB-IoT electric bike management in Zhengzhou, but also highlights Huawei NB-IoT end-to-end solution. Huawei will continue to innovate the NB-IoT solution to help operators explore the migration path of IoT services with 2G or 3G and build all business connected LTE networks. At the same time, Huawei will also continue to work closely with partners to promote the NB-IoT industry to flourish and create an intelligent world.

MWC 19 Shanghai runs from June 26 to June 28 in Shanghai, China. Huawei showcases its products and solutions at booth E10 and E70 in Hall N1 and ICA01 in Innovation City Hall N5 in the Shanghai New International Expo Centre. For more information, please visit carrier.huawei.com/en/events/mwcs19

Google’s Sidewalk’s bet is a nightmare for the privacy conscious

If you’re concerned about whether Google is listening to you through your phone or smart speaker, soon enough you’ll have to worry about lampposts having ears, or at least if your live in Toronto.

For those who have not been keeping up-to-date with the Canadian tech scene, Google’s Sidewalk Labs is currently working in partnership with Toronto to demonstrate the vision of tomorrow; the smart city. Plans are still being drawn up, though it looks like two neighbourhoods will be created with a new Google campus bang in the middle.

The Master Innovation and Development Plan (MIDP) hope to create the city of tomorrow and will be governed by Waterfront Toronto, a publicly-funded organization. In a move to seemingly appease the data concerns of Waterfront Toronto, Google has now stated all the systems would be run by analysing data, but Sidewalk Labs will not disclose personal information to third parties without explicit consent and will not sell personal information.

This is the first bit of insight we’ve had on this initiative for a while. Having secured the project in 2017, Sidewalk Labs has been in R&D mode. The team is attempting to prove the business case and the products, though it won’t be long before work is underway. Assuming of course Google is able to duck and weave through the red-tape which is going to be presented over the next 12-18 months.

The most recent development is a series of white papers which are addressing numerous topics from sustainable production plans, mobility, data protection and privacy and the envisioned usecases. If you have a spare few hours, you can find all the documentation here.

Of course, there are plenty of smart city initiatives around the world but what makes this one interesting is that the concept of ‘smart’ is being built from the foundations. This is a greenfield project not brownfield, which is substantially easier. Buildings, street furniture and infrastructure can be built with connectivity in mind.

This is the challenge which other cities are facing, lets take London as an example. Construction on the London Underground system started in 1863, while the London sewage system was plumbed in between 1859 and 1865. The city itself, and the basic layout, was established in 50 AD. Although there are creative solutions to enhance connectivity, most cities were built in the days before most could even conceive of the internet.

The Quayside and Villiers West neighbourhoods will be home to almost 7,000 residents and offer jobs to even more, anchored by the new Google campus. The buildings will offer ‘adaptable’ spaces, including floor plates and sliding walls panels to accelerate renovations and reduce vacancies. It will also be incredibly energy friendly, featuring a thermal energy grid which could heat and cool homes using the natural temperature of the earth.

But onto the areas which most people in the industry will be interested in; the introduction of new technologies and access to data.

High-speed internet connections will be promised to all residents and businesses, intelligent traffic lights and curbs will be deployed to better regulate traffic, smart awnings will be introduced for those into gimmicky technology and the neighbours will be designed to allow for an army of underground delivery robots to function.

Autonomous driving is one technology area which fits perfectly into the greenfield advantage. The complications of creating a landscape for autonomous vehicles in older cities are great, but by building up the regions with connectivity in mind many of these challenges can be averted. Not only can the introduction of self-driving vehicles be accelerated, but ride-sharing (Zipcar) or hailing (Uber) alternatives can be assisted while other options such as e-scooters are more realistic.

Such is the ambition nurtured in the Google business, if there is a crazy idea which can be applied to the smart city concept, Sidewalk Labs have probably factored it into the design and build process.

And now onto the data. This is where the project has drawn criticism as Google does not necessarily have the most glistening record when it comes to data privacy and protection. Small print littered throughout various applications has ensured Google is never too far away from criticism. In fairness, this is a problem which is industry wide, but a cloud of scepticism has been placed over any initiative which has data as the fuel.

The latest announcement from Google/Sidewalk Labs focuses on this very issue. Sidewalk Labs will not sell any personal information, this data will not be used to fuel the advertising mechanisms and it will not disclose this insight to third-parties. Explicit consent would have to be provided in any of these circumstances.

Whether these conditions will be up to the standards defined by Waterfront Toronto remains to be seen. This body has the final say and may choose to set its own standards at a higher or lower level. Anonymity might be called into play as many activists have been pushing. This is not a scenario which Google would want to see.

While expanding into new services might seem like an attractive idea, if this expansion can be coupled with additional access to data to fuel the Google data machine, it is a massive win for the internet giant. Let’s not forget, everything which Google has done to date (perhaps excluding Loon and the failed Fiber business) has paid homage to the advertising mechanisms.

Fi offers it interesting data on customer locations, the smart speakers are simply an extension of the core advertising business through a new user interface and Android allowed Google to place incredibly profitable products as default on billions of phones and devices. If Google can start to access new data sets it can offer new services, engage new customers and create new revenues for investors.

Let’s say it can start collecting data on traffic flow, this could become important insight for traffic management and city planners when it comes to adding or altering bus routes. This data could also be used to reduce energy consumption on street lights or traffic lights; if there is no-one there, do they actually need to be on? It could also help retailers forecast demand for new stores and aid the police with their work.

These ideas might not sound revolutionary or that they would bring in billions, but always remember, Google never does anything for free. This is a company which seems to see ideas before anyone else and can monetize them like few others. If Google is paying this much attention to an idea or project, there must be money to be made and we bet there is quite a bit.

But this is where Google is facing the greatest opposition. Because it is so good at extracting insight and value from data, it is one of the companies which is facing the fiercest criticism. This will be the most notable the further afield Google spreads its wings. It seems the world is content with Google sucking value out of personal data when it comes to search engines or mobile apps, but pavements, lampposts and bus stops might be a step too far for some.

Of course, criticism might disappear when jealousy emerges. The hardcore privacy advocates will never rest, but most simply don’t care that much. Privacy violations will of course cause uproar, but if there is a fair trade-off, most will accept Google’s role. If Google can prove these neighbourhoods not only improve the quality of life, but also offer advantages to entertainment and business (for example), this initiative could prove to be very popular with the general public, governments and businesses.

Finland’s Uros flies Europe’s flag in Qualcomm smart city program

Qualcomm launched its Smart Cities Accelerator Program with over 40 partners, but fast-growing Finnish company Uros is the only European representative.

Qualcomm recently joined hands with 45 companies that have been using its technologies to set up a community called “Smart Cities Accelerator Program”. The program aims to provide cities, municipalities, government agencies, and enterprises around the world with ecosystem solutions for Smart Cities applications. The member companies included “hardware and software providers, cloud solution providers, system integrators, design and manufacturing companies, as well as companies offering end-to-end solutions with Smart Cities in mind”, the world’s leading chip maker said in a statement.

“The Qualcomm Smart Cities Accelerator Program is a central hub for Smart Cities solution providers,” said Sanjeet Pandit, senior director of business development and head of Smart Cities at Qualcomm. “By working with proven expertise and deployed solutions, cities, municipalities, government agencies and enterprises can speed the realization of their Smart Cities visions. This program aims to foster a rich ecosystem of B2B collaborations that we hope will speed the development and deployment of Smart Cities solutions around the globe.”

Most of the companies are based out of North America and Asia, including familiar names like Compal or Verizon. The sole representative of Europe is Uros, a Finnish private company that has undergone fast growth in recent years. According to the Finnish publication Talouselämä, the company’s turnover grew from €2.7 million in 2015 to €1.3 billion in 2018, an increase of nearly 500 times in three years. Uros is based in Oulu in northern Finland, dubbed the country’s “Radio Valley” which used to be Nokia’s heartland to develop radio technologies and produce base stations. The owner and the current CEO were both Nokia veterans.

Uros unbelievable growth 2015-2018

Uros started its business with a roaming application to help consumers save roaming cost, by which it developed an extensive network with the world’s mobile operators. It then saw the opportunities in IoT, which, though still predominantly short-range, will see wide range, especially cellular IoT gaining share and outpacing the other types of connectivity. Ericsson estimated that over 22.3 billion IoT connections will be on the internet by 2024, including 4.1 billion cellular IoT. The smart city sector will benefit from 5G in a big way.

In addition to smart connectivity solutions, including its industrial products and sensors, Uros will also bring to the table its expertise in data analytics in natural resources management, waste reduction in industrial processes, and turnkey IoT solutions. Its participation in the Qualcomm program must also have to do with its long collaboration with the chip maker, which has been respected by Qualcomm. “Whenever we have a new chip, we will call them about it. They will come up with a new way of using it,” Qualcomm’s Pandit told Talouselämä. “It is not that others can’t develop the same technologies, but they are always the first because they think ‘out of the box’, in their own original way.”

Uros was set up in 2011 and has about 60 employees.

Telefonica and Seat get the MWC wheels turning

Telefonica is fuelling the hype as we motor towards MWC with connected car announcements alongside Spanish automotive giant Seat.

In an early effort to drive traffic towards its stand, Telefonica has carpooled with Seat to give the green light to three new innovations in the connected vehicles race. While there are sceptics who would want to curb autonomous vehicles enthusiasm, the duo is racing towards a happy middle-ground with three assisted driving use cases.

Firstly, the team will introduce pedestrian detection capabilities, which will allow traffic lights to sense the presence of pedestrians with thermal cameras, before relaying this information onto cars in the nearby area. Display panels will be able to inform the driver of potential risks on the road.

Secondly, connected bicycles equipped with a precise geolocation will notify vehicles in the area when the rider decides to turn right. The bikes will be detected by ultra-wideband beacons placed along the road, and should there be a risk of collision, the driver in the car will once again be notified.

While both these ideas will be powered by edge-computing, the final usecase will rely on direct communication interface. Should visibility be particularly low, stationary vehicles would detect moving vehicles, emergency lights would be turned on while the driver would, again, be notified on the display board.

These usecases might not be on the same level as the glories of autonomous vehicles, but there is a satisfactory amount of realism on display. Autonomous vehicles are not going to be on our roads for a long-time, and while that does not mean we should not continue to fine tune the technology, there has to be a focus on improving road safety today. This is exactly what is being done here.

Another similar concept is being developed in MIT. Here, an AI application analyses the way pedestrians are walking to understand whether there might be any risks. This sort of analysis is something we all do subconsciously, but a very useful and important addition to the connected car mix.

Using lidar and stereo camera systems, the AI estimates direction and pace, but also takes pose and gait into consideration. Pose and gait not only inform the pace and direction, but also give clues to future intentions. For instance, if someone is glancing over their shoulder, it could be an indication they are about to step into the road.

Looking further into the future, when autonomous taxis might be a real thing, this could also be incredibly useful. Of course, the simplest way to hail a taxi in this futuristic age will be through an app, but if the vehicle can see and understand an outstretched arm is a signal for a taxi, it would be a useful skill to incorporate into the AI.

All of these ideas are not only relevant for the long-term ambitions of the automotive industry but also very applicable today. Connectivity and AI can be incredibly beneficial for human-operated vehicles, especially with the advancements of edge-computing and leaning on the high bandwidth provided by 5G. Not everything has to be super-futuristic, and it’s nice to see a bit of realism.

US bolsters AI ambitions with Open Government Data Act

President Trump has signed the Open Government Data Act into law, potentially unleashing a tsunami of data for AI applications to be trained with.

The bill itself has been bouncing around Washington for some time now, though it has officially been signed into law. Within one year, all government agencies will have to ensure data sets are open and accessible to the general public and businesses, as well as being presented in a format that can be easily processed by a computer without human intervention. The act also hopes to make the data more accessible through smartphones.

“The government-wide law will transform the way the government collects, publishes, and uses non-sensitive public information,” said Sarah Joy Hays, Acting Executive Director of the Data Coalition, a public interest group which promotes transparency in government and business.

“Title II, the Open Government Data Act, which our organization has been working on for over three and a half years, sets a presumption that all government information should be open data by default: machine-readable and freely-reusable.”

For the digital ecosystem, such a bill should be welcomed with open arms. For any AI application to work effectively it needs to be trained. For years, many have claimed data is the new oil, although we suspect they did not mean in this manner. If the US is to create a leadership position in the developing AI ecosystem, its applications will need to be the best around and therefore will have to have the appropriate data sets to improve performance and accuracy.

Open data is of course not a new idea however. Back in September during Broadband World Forum in Berlin, we sat through several entertaining presentations from individual cities laying out their smart city ambitions. There was one common theme throughout the session; open data. These local governments realise the potential of empowering local digital ecosystems through open data, and the initiatives are proving to be successful.

This new law will force all federal agencies to make all non-sensitive data public in a machine-readable format and catalogue it online. New individuals must be appointed as Chief Data Officers to oversee the process, and new procedures will be introduced. While it seems incredibly obvious, when proposing new laws or regulations agencies will now have to justify the changes with supporting data. As it stands, only a handful of agencies are required to do this, the FCC is one of them, though this law ensures the validation and justification of new rules through data is rolled out across the board.

As with everything to do with data, there are of course privacy concerns. The text of the bill does seem to take this into account, one clause states any data released to the public will have to adhere to the Privacy Act of 1974, though there is bound to be a few blunders. Such a tangent should compound the importance of hiring a Chief Data Officer and a team of individuals who are appropriately trained. We suspect there will be few current employees in the agencies who could ensure compliance here.

Of course, this is not a law which will make an immediate impact. With any fundamental changes, such as this, procedures and systems will have to be updated. The procurement process is most likely, or at least we hope, underway and there will certainly be growing pains.

That said, if the US wants to make a meaningful dent on the AI world, the right tools and data need to be put in the hands of the right people. This is a step in the right direction.

President Xi doesn’t love the private sector, but he needs friends with benefits

Beijing has issued a new policy to encourage entrepreneurship, but it will comes with some pretty major strings attached.

Over the past few months there have been repeated cries in China, ostensibly from some parts of the academia and media, to relegate the private sector further to a second-class role in the economy, to play only a supporting part to the state-owned enterprises (SOEs), despite the former contributing 60% of China’s GDP and creating 80% of the jobs.

But at the beginning of this month Chinese President Xi Jinping hosted a high-profile meeting with 50 leading private companies to reassure the private sector that “you belong to our family”. Promises were made to help alleviate the private sector’s tax burdens, make their access to the financial and capital markets easier, do away with more restriction on competing with SOEs, as well as protect their private property rights.

Since then we understand the state and local media have interviewed numerous cabinet as well as local officials who all vowed to carry out the presidential decree in earnest. Private sector sources in China have also told us that they have received many visits from local officials to hear their grievances and to promise support.

None of these is unheard of. Mr Xi, who has assumed supreme power and has steered the country more and more towards a Mao-style governance, has not been the biggest fan of market economy and has not shied from saying so. But the time has changed. Private sector confidence in the economy has hit a historic low, and many businesses have opted to sell and pull out of the country. One of the highest profile cases in recent years was the withdrawal of Li Ka-shing, the Hong Kong tycoon, who owned Hutchison (and ultimate owned Three UK). This is not helped by the slowdown of the economy in general and the trade war with the US. The country desperately needs the private sector to shore up the economy and keep people employed.

As a follow-up action, Beijing’s municipal government issued its new policy to improve business environment. Many concrete measures are put into place, including shortening the approval process of new business set-up to three days by the end of 2018, and to two days by the end of 2019, and the process to register fixed assets to one to four days. The new regulation also raised the threshold of business revenue that can enjoy favourable tax rate as well as the tax-deductible amount companies can spend on R&D equipment.

The measures may be favourable to private businesses but may not always be beneficial to individuals. For example, business owners are given more flexibility on how much social security payment they can choose to pay for their employees, especially the housing benefit. More importantly, buried in Article 15 of a total of 22 articles, are the specifications on implementing “social credit system” in Beijing.

As was already reported, Beijing vowed to implement the social credit system by 2020 as a model of “city of integrity and honesty” for the whole country. Specifically, the authorities (15 municipal government departments and all the 16 district councils) will complete three lists: data list, behaviour list, and measure (reward and punishment) list, which are to be used to give every resident (22 million of them) a “social security point”.

The names of individuals and businesses that lose credit will be publicly shamed. As the regulation stated in unambiguous terms, those with good points will have “green channels” opened to them in areas like market access, public service, travel, employment, setting up own business, etc. On the other hand, anyone who loses a credit point somewhere will be restricted everywhere.

This most likely will be the biggest artificial intelligence and smart city project (and not in the IoT sense) in the world. But, with the presidential backing, it may succeed.

Speak to the right people and Africa is about much more than just the digital divide

Yesteryear’s conversation in Africa was all about balancing the commercial realities of bridging the digital divide, but this year’s AfricaCom has showcased the bigger ambitions of South Africa.

Perhaps we haven’t been giving the right people the podium in the past, but the conversation in Africa has always been focused on the same thing. How do you deliver connectivity to the masses on a continent which has significantly lower ARPU than more developed regions? While this is still a priority, this year’s AfricaCom conference is demonstrating there are bigger ambitions than simply enhancing coverage.

Yesterday we heard MTN’s ambitions to create a more agile organization which operates in the OTT space and can be branded as a digital services beast, and this morning’s presentations had a smart city twist. It might seem odd that we’re discussing such advanced ideas when basic connectivity is an issue, but why not? If Africa is going to compete in the digital era these conversations need to happen now, and these individuals need to be given their time in the limelight. The smart city segment in South Africa is an excellent example.

Looking at Cape Town, Omeshnee Naidoo, the city’s Director of Information Systems, told the audience the city has a fibre spine 1000km long but the project is still at the starting gate. The infrastructure rollout is set to finish in 2021, while the team has recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Google to provide public wifi. The next step is figuring out how the initiative can now incorporate the citizens.

Johannesburg is in a similar position. Lawrence Boya, the smart city Director, said the city also has a fibre spine 1000km long, and currently more than 1500 public wifi spots. The challenge now is optimising the infrastructure and making sure government services are making use of the assets not going down the private route. Boya also highlighted the team are trying to figure out how to take the concept of smart cities down to a personal level for the citizens.

In both of these examples, steady progress is being made and the idea of the smart city might not be that far away. More government help is needed, both from a policy side as Boya highlighted South Africa currently lacks the framework to make smart cities sustainable, but also collaboration. Naidoo suggested public sector across the board in South Africa is far too siloed. To be fair to some local governments however, data sets have been opened up to the general public, providing the fuel for these new ideas.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to be honest, but perhaps we are guilty of pigeon holing Africa. Too many people, and admittedly Telecoms.com does this too often, suggest the only challenges in Africa are focused on expanding the connectivity footprint. This is patronising and ignores the excellent work which is happening further up the stack. It’s not the case that these initiatives are difficult to find, but maybe we need to give them more airtime instead of taking the easy ‘Africa needs to improve connectivity’ angle.

BBWF 2018: Open data is the key to nailing smart cities

In an entertaining session at Broadband World Forum, a common theme emerged; open data, which is a key component of any successful smart city programme.

The format was an interesting one. Four smart cities were given seven minutes to explain their proposition, and then three minutes to answer questions. Featured were Milan, Athens, Helsinki and Amsterdam, though thanks to your correspondent getting lost on the show floor, the Amsterdam pitch was missed and will not get the attention it deserves. That said, the common theme throughout was open data.

Starting in Milan, data is being used to create a hub of intrigue for start-ups. There isn’t necessarily a focus on segment or vertical, more a top-line ambition to create jobs and value for the economy. As part of the initiative, more than 300 data sets have been made available for citizens and businesses to create new applications and services. Looking at the numbers, the scheme should be deemed a success.

There are currently 1600 start-ups based in the city, out of the total of roughly 8000 across the whole of Italy. 10,000 people are directly employed (or own) start-ups, 80% of which survive the first two years of operation, the most dangerous time for any business. These are certainly promising numbers.

In Helsinki the message is the same. The Mayor has an ambition to create the world’s ‘most functional city’ through digital, with tourism a key factor. Part of this story is opening data up to the community and local businesses to create value.

Finally, over in Athens, open data has been used in a different way. Thanks to financial difficulties in Greece, governments are not trusted. This makes it incredibly difficult to launch new schemes, though by opening up data to the general public and businesses, Konstantinos Champidis, the Chief Digital Officer for Athens, said the team are regaining credibility. The aim here is not only to try and help those citizens create something new, but develop a culture of transparency to regain the trust.

Trust is a key element in these smart cities strategies, as while open data does fuel innovation, the data has to be sourced in the first place. Should citizens not be open to having information about them or their activities collecting and analysed, the whole concept of the data economy runs dry.

We’re sure the presentation from the city of Amsterdam was equally as interesting as the three we saw, but the theme was plainly clear here; open data is a critical component of the smart cities mix.

Exeter and Leeds win National Infrastructure Commission prize

With the technology world dreaming of autonomous vehicles, everyone has to remember perfecting the technology is only part of the battle. The roads have to be updated as well.

This is a concept the National Infrastructure Commission has understood, and looked to address. The national Roads for the Future competition looks to address these very problems with a £50,000 prize fund to fuel new ideas. It might not be an astronomical figure, but the lessons learned will certainly be useful.

And the winners are… City Science based in Exeter and the Leeds City Council.

“The vehicles of tomorrow will be very different to those we see around us today. We need to make sure our roads are ready for this revolution,” said Chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission Sir John Armitt. “With such a strong shortlist narrowing down the entries was no easy task, but the ideas put forward by City Science and Leeds set them apart. I’ve been really pleased by the enthusiasm for our competition, and I hope it leads to ever-greater interest not just in the technology in the vehicles, but also in the roads they will travel on.”

In Exeter, City Science will examine how sections of roads in urban areas could initially be dedicated to driverless vehicles, as a key step in kick-starting their take-up and integrating them safely into the existing transport network. Over in Leeds, the council will investigate how the data generated from digitally connected cars could be used to improve traffic light sequencing, allowing highway authorities to better manage traffic on their roads and reduce tailbacks.

“Over the past three months, this project has given us the opportunity to explore the enormous potential of CAVs and set out a tangible vision to deliver their benefits on the UK’s roads.,” said Laurence Oakes-Ash, CEO of City Science. “It is essential that we get the rollout of CAVs right, using them in ways that can integrate with mass transit, promote healthy cities and create successful communities.”

“While digitally connected and autonomous vehicles are still a long way down the road, they have the potential to offer massive benefits in major cities like Leeds,” said Leeds City Council executive member for regeneration, transport and planning, Councillor Richard Lewis. “We look forward to continuing our work with all our partners and stakeholders to turn this innovation into reality.”

The other short-listed entries were how CAVs can be best deployed to beat congestion and improve the air quality (entry from Immense), Arup’s entry assessed the future management of the side of the road through the introduction of flexible kerb space, while Aecom’s idea was to investigate how technology can enable traffic lights to ‘talk’ to vehicles.

Back in January, the National Infrastructure Commission, alongside Highways England and Innovate UK, launched the Roads for the Future competition received 81 entries with ideas for how the UK’s road network could be adapted to maximise the potential benefits these new vehicles could bring. These ideas could have investigated any aspect of the segment such as new travel opportunities, freeing up time focused on driving, and helping to improve safety.

The competition itself followed the release the first-ever National Infrastructure Assessment, a report recommendations for how the identified infrastructure needs to be altered or adapted for autonomous vehicles. Some of these recommendations included that the Government devise a National Broadband Plan by Spring 2019, to deliver full fibre connections across the whole of the country, including those in rural areas.

Technology is obviously critical for the development and adoption of autonomous vehicles, as is the 4G/5G infrastructure, but it is nice to see the roads are being considered as well.