Technology does not have all the answers, but it can help provide solutions to some of the most pressing urban challenges. A study by Future Cities Catapult matches innovative British infrastructure solutions with urban challenges in Belo Horizonte.
Intelligent infrastructure provides the foundation for key issues such as safe cycling and reliable business broadband. The UK is internationally regarded for its architecture, engineering and technology firms, city planners and universities. The melting pot of expertise that it has created has given rise to ground-breaking intelligent infrastructure solutions that have real application in cities, both in Britain and elsewhere. But matching the right technology with the right challenge is key to achieving impact.
A project by Future Cities Catapult, the UK Government-backed global centre of excellence in urban innovation, has identified key urban challenges in a major Brazilian metropolis that could benefit from UK-based knowledge and experience. The project was conducted in collaboration with Embarq Brazil who carried out their own study alongside Future Cities Catapult’s work.
The project included a series of workshops and discussions with organisations and businesses in Belo Horizonte, the sixth most populous metro area in Brazil. The Catapult identified four key challenges in the city that can be matched with solutions already implemented in the UK:
- Overcrowding on public transport
- How to use infrastructure to support innovation
- High levels of road accidents
- High number of informal settlements in areas vulnerable to high geological risk
But the Catapult’s study stresses there is no one-size-fits-all approach to solutions in cities: “By working together with local authorities and solution providers and innovation agencies like Future Cities Catapult, cities can identify the technologies with the highest potential, match them to urban challenges and exchange this information with partners around the world,” says Toni Lindau, WRI Brazil Sustainable Cities Director.
In Brazil, cities like Belo Horizonte face problems as diverse as improving mobility, increasing citizen safety and better supporting local innovation. “These challenges are not unique to Brazilian cities, they are common to many cities all over the world,” says Adam Rae, Head of Urban Data at Future Cities Catapult. “With common challenges comes the opportunity for sharing solutions to address them. Our study matches Belo Horizonte’s challenges with examples of technologies that were successfully implemented in the UK,” he says.
One of the British innovations that Belo Horizonte could implement using pre-existing infrastructure is a public transport solutions developed in London. On some bus routes in the UK capital, passenger occupancy is monitored using the on-board CCTV cameras. The video footage is analysed to identify current seat occupancy and the location of available seats. The information is also useful for transport operators to monitor user behaviour on board the buses and for future mobility service planning.
To boost the city’s innovation capabilities, Belo Horizonte should look at Birmingham’s successful roll-out of high-speed broadband and free public Wi-Fi networks, the Catapult says.
UK city planners are also experimenting with a range of ways to make the city safer for cyclists. Sensor technology can be installed on cycle lanes to detect the volume of cyclists waiting to cross the road at traffic lights, for example. The technology was tested in London, where depending on the volume of cyclists the information is used to vary the green signal phase of the traffic lights to allow more cyclists through.
High-quality data is identified by the study as a key element in improving the safety of high environmental risk areas. The Catapult highlights how the UK’s Environment Agency publishes data gathered by almost 2500 electronic monitoring stations in England and Wales online.
The report, which contains more examples of intelligent infrastructure in the UK can be downloaded here.