Build smart cities in developing countries

For smart cities to succeed, they require real-time, location-based strategies, solutions and responses to effectively deliver the services that make cities work. These include everything from health and education to sanitation collection.

To date, the limited capacity and capabilities of the developing world has meant that they have not had the same opportunities as developed countries for the development and consumerism of geospatial technologies. But that is quickly changing.

“The developing world is learning from past mistakes by the developed world, particularly in attempting to create a technology in search of problems to solve, and is ensuring that geospatial information and technologies are more ubiquitous and closely tied to addressing real world needs and development issues,” said Greg Scott, senior advisor for global geospatial information management in the U.N. Statistics Division.

Thanks to Sustainable Development Goals pushing for a stronger focus on data, analytics, and geospatial and earth observation technologies, there is increasing attention on achieving and monitoring development outcomes. And such technologies will be a critical component for future smart cities in developing countries.

Land tenure and rights, poverty eradication, education and welfare, food security, climate change, health, and disasters are among the policy areas developing nations can become smarter at responding to thanks to these improved tools.

“The effective use of geospatial technologies can have a transformational impact on many of humanity’s most significant challenges in the developing world,” said Scott, who leads the development of policies and strategies through his role as secretariat for the U.N. Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management.

A key partnership

While the U.N. has been leading the charge, NASA has the tools to assist.

In 2005 the agency launched World Wind, a web-based, open source platform facilitating development of apps using satellite, thematic and geospatial data for analysis and visualization.

Geospatial data links information to a graphic reference; earth observation data is environmental data collected from remote sensing and satellite technologies. They are brought together using geographic information systems — computer systems that can capture, store, display and analyze data related to its location.

To encourage new and innovative ways of delivering data management tools for cities, World Wind Project Manager Patrick Hogan established the NASA World Wind Europa Challenge in collaboration with Politecnico di Milano, Geo for All, Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition, Hub Innovazione Trentino and the Hungarian Association for Geo-information.

Beginning in 2013, the challenge is now an annual event with projects delivering solutions for earthquake and bushfire management, traffic monitoring and environmental and agricultural monitoring solutions.

Dr. Gábor Remetey-Fülöpp from the Hungarian Association for Geo-information has been working with the project since 2012 as part of the scientific committee, applying his expertise in computer-aided design, remote sensing, geospatial technology and cartography to help design challenge themes and evaluate projects for the NASA World Wind Europa Challenge to ensure it meets its lofty goals.

Remetey-Fülöpp told Devex that the wider availability of geospatial technology combined with the use of open earth observation data, open governmental policy and open source apps today makes it more accessible to developing countries. “The synergy of using EO, geospatial and statistical data on a spatial data infrastructure basis can greatly improve the quality of monitoring and reporting, but it can also enhance measures taken on local level, helping to guide actions taken to improve societal benefits,” he said. “The open data policy and a growing number of open source tools for data analysis, allows intelligent information to be closer to the decision-makers.”

Remote sensing, cloud computing, big data, apps, social media and location-based services are among the services Remetey-Fülöpp believes open new opportunities to deliver better services for smart cities, including in developing nations.

That is the topic both Remetey-Fülöpp and Scott will be discussing in their session at the 10th International Symposium of Digital Earth in Sydney on April 5. 

“The technologies were originally seen as being able to organize data, create digital representations of the world, and to automate mapping within and across agencies and enterprises,” Scott explained. But he says it has evolved to become a “major disruptor of change and much more consumer based.”