How smarter healthcare and smarter cities are changing our world

smart city
The make-up of cities is changing

Smarter healthcare

Digital technologies are not only creating new health products, but smart is facilitating a change in how we manage our health. Smart is supporting a shift from a focus on cure towards a broader view of wellness management and healthy living.

One vision of the future would be a world in which digital sensors scan your body, and communicate remotely with healthcare professionals who are able to use massive health datasets to analyse the information. Based on this, highly personalised and daily set of medication could then be 3D printed as a pill for you to take with next to no interference in your daily routine.

Shifts such has these are requiring a re-thinking of how our healthcare system is configured. New sets of collaborative relationships between technology companies, pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers, and healthcare professionals are emerging and will be required to further advance this agenda.

A key enabler of these relationships will be trust around how these players use and share our data. But health data is highly personal and sensitive. Panellists contended that we will need a new generation of smart health consumers to advance this agenda.

Smarter cities

Intelligent systems are improving how we interact with the urban environment. We now have buildings which monitor pollution. We could have buildings which can offer their users personalised, real-time and location-specific updates on dust or pollen levels across a site helping to mitigate health issues.

We now have up-to-the-minute data on our transport networks and systems which can not only tell us exactly where the nearest bus to work is, but can chart the best route for us to work today given the road works around the corner, the knock-on effects of a broken track 10 miles away and our preference for longer walks to work on sunny Fridays, but not cloudy Tuesdays.

The notion of a smart city is a well developed narrative. The smart city agenda was described by panellists as 'the use of technology to shape a better world'. It involves the capture of data to make our urban systems more efficient. By measuring more things, and by measuring them more accurately it is possible to optimise the system to perform more strongly.

Looking internationally we see examples of digital technologies being used to tackle issues as diverse as energy management technology, water management systems, transport management, waste management, and assisted living[1]. The key theme here is using digital technologies to join up better link services and operations at the urban level.

Smarter transport

The Transport Systems Catapult estimates the global market for intelligent mobility and integrated transport solutions could be worth £900bn by 2025[2]. Our research has identified that the UK is widely seen as a global leader in developing smart cities.

This is perhaps a surprise, given that unlike in many of the examples above, we are not currently building new cities. However it appears that we do have a critical mass of individuals with expertise in many of the key areas for the development of the smart city agenda. The Future Cities Catapult has recently been established with a view to linking up these strengths. Their initial assessment identifies these assets.

"...The UK has a business ecosystem full of top companies in project management, data analysis, engineering, architecture, energy, the digital economy, finance and professional services – all the expertise needed to develop workable solutions is here. It also has world-class research capabilities in the built environment and city systems. And a unique culture of innovation." Future Cities Catapult (2014) Who we are and what we do.

A UK example cited by a number of participants was the Oyster card system in London. The introduction of a single digital payment technology hasn't just saved passengers the hassle of buying tickets, it is helping to improve how the London transport system runs.

For example data on how we use the system makes it possible to plan maintenance in ways which minimise disruption by focusing on routes when most users have an alternative.

Panellists suggested that better building a sense of play, fun and creativity into the design and development of these systems could help to engage users by delivering a human side to understand technological opportunities.

As Leadbeater argued in a recent paper from the Centre for London[3], smart cities work best when they combine systems and empathy. Systems are needed to ensure effective and efficient running of the repeatable, transactional and quantifiable.

  • Working on the Towards a Smarter Society report in partnership with Samsung UK, Charles Levy is a Senior Economist at The Work Foundation and David Wong a Researcher at the Big Innovation Centre. Follow the links for Part 1, Part 2, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6 and Part 7 of the report.

References: [1] See for a discussion of each of these areas BIS (2013), The smart city market: Opportunities for the UK. [2] Transport Systems Catapult (2013), The Role, Purpose & Vision of the Transport Systems Catapult. [3] Leadbeater, C. (2014), The London Recipe: How Systems and Empathy Make the City, London: Centre for London.