Yahoo is carrying a useful article from that makes reference to some very credible resources.  Essentially it points to early signals of the Shell Scenarios ‘chaos’ scenario starting to bear out.  At the risk of descending into industry jargon, this is not good.

In March, for the first time, Director of National Intelligence James R Clapper listed “competition and scarcity involving natural resources” as a national security threat on a par with global terrorism, cyber war and nuclear proliferation.

If you’re remotely interested in a plausible future for where the world is going, then this is a very sobering read that links water and food scarcity to global unrest.

via Entering a resource-shock world – Yahoo! News Maktoob.

It’s been a long and very rewarding journey working with the Canterbury District Health Board (Christchurch, New Zealand) and the fruits of the labour are starting to be born.  One of the latest projects to come out of long term transformation thinking was featured on a local news channel, and can be seen below:


From the excellent Futures Group in the Singapore Government comes this short video entitled The Age of Turbulence.  It covers off four drivers of change that the team has identified, and the first of these is most relevant for The Sensing City initiative for Christchurch.

To give more context, it references the fact that over the coming decades there will be a huge demand for the development of new Tier 2/3 cities, and that many of these will be financed privately. This in turn will require the development of new technologies, processes and techniques for managing the complexity of cities.  If you’re pushed for time, watch the first few minutes:

A quick link to an article in The Economist on a topic that we’ve explored many times for different clients, starting back in 2007 for the Shell Technology Futures programme.

The factory of the future will focus on mass customisation—and may look more like those weavers’ cottages than Ford’s assembly line.

via Manufacturing: The third industrial revolution | The Economist.

For the last two weeks, and the next few weeks, this is my office. Temporary, adaptable and inhabited by a team of people that are creative, flexible and hard working.  In short – the perfect working environment for innovation….

One of the most common questions asked about the Sensing City concept is the availability of commercial sensor technology. There are a range of technologies around that can be used, and the most mature offering in this area appears to be from a Spanish company called Libelium.  It has developed a series of sensors that can be used in a range of different environments, and has just released an new series of sensors that make the Sensing City concept significantly more achievable.  This short video explains them in detail:

For more information check out web site of Libelium.

Last night I talked on the phone with a very senior official about how Governments use data.  He was fine to talk on the phone but asked that his name not be blogged for a few weeks.  Given the sensitivity of the conversation here’s the highlights.

He thinks that the Sensing City is “the way of the future,” and was a unique concept globally. His view is that that the whole area is in it’s infancy but will explode in the next two to three years. The aim of such initiatives is to use data to be proactive about how cities function.

He sees data as the new currency of the city.

In a previous role he was heavily involved in promoting the release of data in civic organisations.  As such he recommends that each local government department has a data officer who spends their time reviewing data and understanding the implications. The aim of this investment is to reduce the cost of running a city by enabling things like proactive maintenance (e.g. when will a water pipe need maintenance based on actual road traffic, as opposed to waiting for the pipe to rupture and closing the road to fix it).

He thought that there were four main reasons why a city should invest in initiatives like the Sensing City:

  1. for economic growth
  2. to create jobs
  3. to allow for effective local government
  4. increased safety (both for emergency services, and in emergencies)

In December I’ll update this to add his name and position.

In San Francisco I had one afternoon to meet a range of people who were in town for Meeting of the Minds.  It was a bit rushed and therefore brief meetings, but here’s the highlights:

I met with Colin Harrison who is the inventor of the IBM Smart Cities technical architecture. It was a brief meeting to introduce the concept of the Sensing City. In this regard he sees the opportunity for Christchurch as being able to make sense of the data.

He also made an interesting point that when IBM started the Smart Cities initiative, people assumed that cities wanted efficiencies in their cities.  Actually it turned out that they really wanted differentiation on a global scale and some way of attracting smart talent to create economic development.

My next meeting was with Jennifer Pahlka, the founder of Code for America. Their mission is to help:

“…governments work better for everyone with the people and the power of the web. […] we’re building a network of cities, citizens, community groups, and startups, all equally committed to reimagining government for the 21st century.”

This is interesting for the Sensing City project as COA is all about data driven decision making, and how people can use data to create better Government.  What I found interesting is that the organisation is essentially trying to open the hoses on pools of public data (such as public transit information) whereas with the Sensing City we’re potentially creating a tsunami of data for a city to work with.

One of the more interesting pieces of the conversation was around how to involve artists in the project (linking to the discussion with David at The Guggenheim) and Jennifer recommended talking to GAFFTA about this.  The blurb for the organisation is wonderful and states that it:

brings together the best creative coders, data artists, designers, and makers to create experiments that build social consciousness through digital culture. GAFFTA is the nation’s leading organization dedicated to furthering the use and advancement of creative technology for social good and artistic advancement. In this capacity, we maintain relationships with the world’s top academic researchers, innovative corporations, visionary artists, and civic leaders. By continually engaging and connecting this diverse community with challenges and opportunities, we extract forward-thinking technological solutions with proven capacity to create positive change.

In a Christchurch context it’s like the creatives from Burning Man sat down with the Gap Filler team for a hackathon.  I’ll be talking to GAFFTA more about the Sensing City over the coming weeks.

The final meeting of the day was with the wonderful Bill Reinert,  who is not well known (like Elon Musk/Tesla) but should be. Bill is the guy who works on the long term advanced technology projects for Toyota USA, and is essentially responsible for creating the Prius. We’ve previously talked about the implications of a Sensing City for transportation, and this conversation continued.  Bill thought that is was likely that a carpet of sensors across a city could dramatically advance the adoption of autonomous cars (driverless cars).  While he could not see immediately how Toyota could capitalise on the Sensing City, we did discuss some  research that the company is working on in Japan, and how it might find a home in Christchurch.  That part of the conversation is commercially sensitive so I’m not going to mention it here, but it could be promising for the city.

Ruthbea Yesner Clarke is a research director responsible for managing the IDC global Smart Cities Strategies program.  IDC is one of the largest technology research companies in the world.  I met her prior to the Meeting of the Minds conference in San Francisco  (which I could not attend as I had to be back in time to talk about the Sensing City at IceFest).

She believes that right now there are no smart cities, just smart projects.  One of the more forward thinking examples is Boston, where it has an office of New Urban Mechanics.  However this consists of a handful of people  but has received press coverage in the BBC, The Atlantic, Wired,  and the Harvard Business Review to name a few.  The coverage is for a smartphone app called Street Bump that automatically notifies city officials when your car drives over a pothole.

Ruthbea thought that one of the most significant issues with a concept like The Sensing City was how to get different vendors working together in a new model of cooperation/competition.   She believes that companies like IBM, Cisco and Schneider are in it for the long term, and that the IBM project in Rio was a good example of how to create an ecosystem approach to smart cities.

One of her recommendations was to opt for a digital masterplan as a way of formulating the plan for how the Sensing City could be made real.

In Boston I met with Joe Paradiso of the MIT Media Lab. Joe thinks that the concept of the Sensing City is “intriguing.”  He sees that it’s a given that this concept will make it’s way into the fabric of cities in the future, but at the moment most of the data is locked down and proprietary.  For the concept to work well it must be the opposite.

In addition he noted that for the concept to work well, the data from the city must be of use to the people that live in the city.

The new MIT Media Lab building is layered with sensors, and the data from these is visualised here (note – plugin required).  This uses a game engine to create the graphics that allow you to fly through the building and interact with the data. You can get a better idea of that in this short video.

This video is fascinating as it hints at the potential of what you could do if you had similar visualisations of an entire city.

However Joe deals mainly with smart buildings, and recommended talking with his colleague Kent Larson who deals with the city side of the Media Labs work.  I’ll be following up with Kent to get his thoughts.

While at the Media Lab I also met with Wei Pan, who updated me on the MIT City Science Initiative. The background for this states:

We are seeking strategic partners from industry and government to develop targeted research projects and living lab deployments around the themes of urban design, mobility-on-demand, energy, big data, responsive technologies, and integrated live-work environments. Our mission is to develop urban strategies that can result in:

  • 100x Reduction in CO2 emissions
  • 10x Reduction in traffic congestion
  • 5x Improvement in livability
  • 2x Improvement in creativity

This feels like there’s a place for Christchurch in this somewhere…