Why startups need to work with governments to build smarter cities

Governments and startups need to work together to make Australian cities smarter and more liveable, Deloitte Digital team leader Markus Geisen says.


At the Pause Fest tech conference in Melbourne, a group of ICT, Internet of Things and sustainability experts came together to discuss ways to move Australia up the Smart City index.


While Australia boasts some of the world’s most liveable cities, rapidly evolving places like Mumbai and Barcelona are much “smarter” in using advanced technology and startup solutions.


The expert panel agreed that collaboration between citizens, startups, top levels of government and corporations was the best way forward.


“How do we enable startups to come up with their own IoTs and help roll them out at large?” Geisen said.


With the ultimate aim of improving liveability, Giesen said there has to be a bigger “hacking” culture to create solutions for customers and citizens.


He said an increase in hackathons and reward systems would bring Melbourne up to par with buzzing ecosystems like Berlin.


Steps toward sustainability, like AGL’s solar power strategy, were the kind of proactive action needed for smarter cities, Giant Ideas founder Catherine Caruana-McManus said.


Changes to school curriculum were also highlighted as important in creating this change.


“We can’t have an innovation nation without a focus on STEM,” she said.


Tesla marketing and communications manager Heath Walker said Australia schools are preoccupied with preparing students for general careers.


“The time is rife to start educating for careers in 20 years,” Walker said.

Innovating cities and citizens


Melbourne Smart City Office strategy lead Bonnie Shaw said they are keen to work with startups and start prototyping or testing projects in the city and lives of citizens.


She expressed interest in platforms creating positive community experiences.


“We’re taking a human-centred design approach,” she said.


When building new ideas, creators should design with this in mind: “What do you owe to your family, career and life?” Cisco digital director Harley Young said.


As refugees and new people move into Australia, he said technologists and creators had an opportunity to develop integrated communities that help citizens connect and feel included.


Disrupting for livability


Harley said smarter cities find ways to enhance sustainability, user-friendliness and livability.


He pointed to Rio di Janeiro’s use of technology to tear down silos and merge business centres by integrating more than 20 cities into a central command centre.


Similarly, Barcelona treats itself like a “live-in laboratory” he said with smart water and smart parking technology leading to 47,000 new jobs.


As part of its Smart City framework, the Sunshine Coast Council has launched ICT initiatives to reduce its environmental footprint, improve data sharing, reduce crime and create new employment.


One of these initiatives is free WiFi at a public park, which lets council collect information on park visitors, how they use it and why.


“The data that generates allows government to deliver better services to citizens,” Harley said.


He said government transparency is also necessary to ensure data is used to improve citizen lives and not suppress basic freedoms.


“The one thing that government needs to do is make people aware of the trade-off when they give up all this data,” he said.


“If we concentrate on usability instead of technology for technology’s sake, we’ll advance very quickly.”


Future of smart cities


Reflecting on Tesla’s development of driverless cars, Walker said they wanted to build a vehicle that didn’t lose value over time.


Existing Tesla owners can install new features liked auto-lane change and auto-steering through free software upgrades, Walker said.


With better transportation “on our doorstep” Walker predicted that private car ownership will drop significantly, impacting things like demand for multi-storey car parks and the ability for elderly people who can’t drive to reconnect with society.


“It will be interesting to see the dynamic of change,” he said.


“There needs to be a human benefit at the end of it.”


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Dinushi Dias is a journalist at StartupSmart and multimedia content producer. When she’s out of the office, she works on social projects with her We Love It Productions family and buddying filmmakers.