Spain and Barcelona have faced challenges in recent years as the economy was hit hard by the 2008 crisis. Now the city is looking to the internet for the next wave of prosperity.
This quest for reinvention isn’t new for the city, “Barcelona used to be an industrial city, that was badly hit by the economic crisis of the seventies,” said Deputy Mayor Antoni Vives. “There were some guys in the city at the time that decided that we had to keep on being an important city.”
“There’s a new generation of politicians, civil servants, of thinkers and people committed to the city that ten years ago started to work on a new phase of what the city was to become.”
“We decided that Barcelona had to become the edgiest city in the world related to the new revolution and the new revolution was this one — the technology related to mobility, devices and mainly the internet.”
That vision resulted in Barcelona starting to rewire the city which was one of the reasons for Cisco choosing the city as the venue for its inaugural Internet of Things World Forum.
As part of the event, the City took delegates on tours of some of the connected infrastructure the city has installed. Here’s what we learned on the press tour.
The digital bus stop
The digital bus stop is one of the prides of Barcelona, not only does it display digital advertising and real time bus schedules it also offers tourist information, USB charging sockets and acts as a free WiFi base station.
One of the barriers Barcelona has encountered has been the Spanish telecoms regulators objection to the city providing municipal WiFi so services are restricted to the city’s property, which happens to include bus stops.
The bus stops themselves are connected to the city’s fibre network that runs most of the backhaul and connects many of the fixed devices.
Smart parking spots
Connected to the city’s WiFi network are these smart parking spaces that detect the presence of cars through a combination of light and metal detectors.
The city’s plan is that payment and monitoring of the smart parking spots will happen online and with smartphone apps.
Powering the dot, which is a fairly dumb device, is a battery with an expected five to seven year lifespan. Interestingly, the dots don’t work with motorcycles.
One of the reporters on the tour questioned the durability of these devices given Barcelona doesn’t get extreme temperatures, the response from the Cisco and city staff indicates that ice or hot weather may shorten the lifespan of these devices.
Smart lighting and monitoring
In the square outside the Born Cultural Centre, the city has installed a row of streetlights with multiple features including CCTV, air monitoring and Wifi. All of these lights are connected to the city’s 500Km long undeground fibre network.
The fibre network itself is being installed progressively as the city carries out routine maintenance to roads and other underground services. By co-ordinating the work with other trades it reduces the installation cost dramatically.
Smart rubbish bins
The connected garbage bins are one of the showpieces of the city’s services. By monitoring trash levels, the council’s sanitation team can plot the optimal routes for collection services.
Again the sensors on the bins are fairly dumb devices that connect wirelessly to a base station, shown on the pole above the bins in the earlier photo, these track rubbish levels and later versions are expected to detect the presence of obnoxious or hazardous materials that might be dumped in the bin.
Operators of the garbage trucks get real time updates to their routes which optimises their productivity. It’s cost savings in the city’s operations which is one of the key drivers for the city’s investment in these technologies.
One of the major cost savings identified by the Barcelona Council is in energy costs. Along with the expense of running garbage trucks unnecessarily are power bills.
Part of the smart lighting system is that it will dim when there’s no motion detected in the streets and lighten when pedestrians are around. This is intended to save money and help the city meet it’s zero carbon emission targets.
Barcelona and the future
Every single one of the technologies being shown today in Barcelona will be commonplace in most developed cities in the near future.
The problem for adopting these systems is going to be connectivity, in places where there aren’t the fibre optic services or easily deployed WiFi it will be difficult to install smart devices and monitor them.
Every major city is going to be facing the question of how they deploy these devices over the next decade as their residents expect better and more efficient service. Barcelona has taken the first steps that most others will follow.