Interview with Andrew Hudson – From smart data to smart cities

Published August 31, 2015   |   

Can you tell us a little about yourself and what you do?
I am the Director of The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) at University College London and Professor of Digital Urban Systems. CASA is a unique lab – it is almost an entire University in a single space, with postdocs from Mathematics, Physics, Computer Science, Geography, Psychology, Architecture and Urban Planning.  The centre has been around for 20 years and specializes in urban modeling, the simulation of cities, big data and the Internet of Things.
Some of our readers may not be familiar with Digital Urban, perhaps we could start off with you telling us a bit about the organization and its mission.
Digital Urban was set up while I was completing my Ph.D. as a means to explore the impact of digital technology on cities. Its mission interweaves with CASA in general in that it is forward thinking and looking at emerging trends in technology to explore their future impact on the built form. It has quite a focus on data and the third dimension as much information linking to cities is still portrayed in a 2D form. It turns out the world is not flat, and neither is data; there is a need to move into the z-axis and thus explore a true representation of the urban data space.
You have authored a number of scholarly papers on Smart Cities and Internet of things that are available on the digital urban website. There has been a lot of press and even advertising about the idea of “Smart Cities”. What, in your opinion, are vital factors for cities to develop into so-called “smart cities”?
Arguably, nowhere is smart. Indeed, we are far from the smart city concept. There are glimpses of systems being joined up, where data and associated algorithms can offer notable impact on local areas.  The vital factors are to embrace simplicity and to move aware from the complex, costly systems that some the large commercial companies are offering. The smart citizen is arguably the first goal to reach; wearables are moving us beyond the quantified self and towards a quantified city. 
How can data analytics be used to bring profound effects on the development of ‘Smart Cities’?
Analytics simple allow us to understand systems and therefore ultimately place, space and onwards to cities. It is arguably another buzz word in a series of buzz words around simply being able to understand places through data, something we have been attempting to do for hundreds of years. It feels as if we are on the edge of a revolution in our understanding of cities. The data is emerging, and the software is starting make sense of place via urban simulation and thus predict the future with early city operating forecasts. It is still early days but we are not far away from a software simulated city and with that brings the ability analyze, rewind and more importantly run data forward to view the future of the urban system.
Does Smart grid play a key role in running a smart, efficient city? If so, how?
Smart Grid is one view on joining systems and data, although as ever with emerging technologies practice is very different to the vision of the Smart Grid at the moment. By gaining an overview of data, it is possible to make notable efficiency savings via small changes at the micro/individual level.
Rio de Janeiro in Brazil has been developing a smart city since 2010. The city is monitoring Twitter feeds during events to know what’s happening in the city and accordingly respond to people’s concerns quickly. What type of real-time data analysis techniques are used in this project?
Social network analysis in now becoming a norm for cities around the world. If you clicked ‘yes’ to those terms in an app then agencies, policy units or simply intrigued individuals can mine and track your data. The large organizations have data detailing an individual’s movement every 2 minutes, allowing them to truly start to understand trends in the city. Text-based data can be analyzed for both sentiment and language, allow us to see the ‘happiness’ of the city. Combined with other datasets it is moving us towards a real-time census of the city.

Do you have any parting recommendations or comments for people involved in data science, internet of things and smart city design?
I would, of course, recommend our own Masters courses – MSc in Smart Cities and Urban Analytics, and the new MRes in Spatial Data Science and Visualisation. Both are written from the ground up, to provide the core skills needed in the emerging Smart Cities/Data Analytics workspace. If I were to make one comment, it would be to ensure that technology is kept high in the mix. There seems to be a trend to note that Smart Cites are not ‘technology-led’ but ‘needs led’. This seems to be a missed opportunity, as we have been chasing the needs led answers since the first city formed. Perhaps it is time for technology to take a lead to allow new solutions and opportunities to open up via advances in the Internet of Things.
Andy Hudson will be speaking at the RE.WORK Future Technology Summit, in London on 24-25 September. Book your ticket using code BDMS20 for 20% discount on tickets! For more information and to register, visit the event website here.