The IoT and Local Councils. Exciting Opportunities for Start Ups.

It’s a gorgeous sunny day. You are on your way to work. Your latte from the cafe down the road is nestled in the drink dispenser beside you. You herald a quick wave to your neighbour at the electronic bus stop that has just registered that she is there and is now entertaining her with ads targeted just for her spending delight. Simultaneously, the bus shelter acts as a WiFi point and is sending a signal to the bus depot that there is a passenger waiting. It is noting her recent purchases and even the selfies she has taken. Her seat is collecting data on the humidity, pollution and temperature and transmitting that information for environmental monitoring.

Your gaze then shifts to the elderly lady down the road who is taking the dog for it’s morning ablutions.  Like every male dog globally, it makes its presence known  on the local lamp post. This lamp post is also a telecommunications tower with sensors in it to monitor weather, population density and noise via the WiFi router at the top. Beside it stands the rubbish bin. This time the dog misses the discreet sensor in the side of the bin that monitors how full it is getting and when it needs to be collected.

As you get closer to your destination, your mobile phone app notifies you that a parking space very close to work has become available and directs you to it.  The soda can like sensor retracts into the ground as you drive into your spot. Another smooth, quick drive to work. This is what it is like to live a day in the cobblestone, IoT connected city of Barcelona. Barcelona being one of the smart cities already in operation thanks to the IoT.

In Barcelona it was calculated, that those car parking sensors,  has brought about a 30% to 40% reduction in traffic congestion alone with an estimated saving in revenue of approximately $50M*.  This is just one of the cost and environmental benefits reported to date by having an IoT connected or “smart” city.

Australia is in a unique position. It doesn’t, as yet, have a single smart city. This has led to considerable commercial interest and the competitive environment is already alight with organizations wanting to dominate this space.

In April 2016 the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet announced its new Commonwealth Smart Cities Plan*. A plan that will see $50 million of federal funding utilised for state infrastructure projects as long as it meets certain criteria, including economic growth and tax revenue requirements. Three cities, Launceston, Townsville and Western Sydney, have been identified as the initial trial destinations for the federal program. Adelaide has decided not to wait for trials to be completed and is going out on its own. Hoping to position itself as Australia’s first smart city and a “smart campus” for international students, they have already started trialling IoT connected initiatives such as parking and sensor operated lighting.*

What does that mean though for the smaller local councils and the Australian start ups that wish to partner with them?

In order for a smart city to be successful in Australia, it needs to have a level of interoperability and a framework within to operate. Understanding the creators of that framework and their requirements and plans is the key component to get right for any local council and start up that wishes to be part a smart city.  The Australian government at the federal level,  has selected Hypercat Alliance as the standard creator for their smart city roll out. They are a consortium of SMEs, start ups, large scale tech companies and universities that work to create a standard for interoperability for cities. Initially, functioning in the UK, they have been selected to partner with the Australian federal government on the three trial cities selected in the smart cities plan.

Similar in purpose, is the US based nonprofit organization US Ignite, which is partnering with Adelaide City Council. Clever local initiatives are also starting to appear as well councils such as the Sunshine Coast Council.  Sunshine Coast Council  are working with major players Cisco and Telstra to create the Smart City Framework (SMF). The framework is the provision of 13 smart city services that enhance living, services and sustainability within the municipality.

When asked about the key considerations for local councils in creating an IoT connected city , Hypercat Alliance Founder and Director Justin Anderson commented,

“Any council or purchaser needs to consider the medium and long term implications of their decisions when it comes to ensuring both resilience in the system and the creation of an environment for innovation. Most important is to think about the whole ecosystem, from universities to public sector organisations and from Enterprises to SMEs. Interoperability is the critical component that allows this. Key for councils is to ensure that they are solid on interoperability and the supporting standards – don’t fall into the betamax trap with tax payers money.”

What does this mean for Australian start ups considering partnering with local council on IoT activities?

It means that any start up will need to be across the projects and systems in plan for our smart cities and be in a position to add value and innovation to that. They will also need to be flexible in their technology to allow for growth, discovery and interoperability. Local knowledge will be a distinct advantage for start ups. Future proofing in terms of data security and privacy will be fundamental. Opportunities abound if partnering with the likes of Hypercat Alliance work well.

One such start up who is already making inroads in this field is OMA. OMA is an onsite, real time monitoring app of waste water treatment systems. Described simply as the breathalyser of the waste treatment world, this innovation is projected to save local councils hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.  The technology is flexible, has interoperability and has relevance to the unique requirements of the Australian rural waste water environment.  It has the perfect ingredients to work with any standards provider.

It’s an exciting time in Australia’s future. There is no doubt we will have smart cities sooner that we think. It’s now over to the Australian Startups as to how much they will be a part of that.