Australian cities are ramping up their investment into smart technologies in a bid to attract talent and overhaul how citizens enjoy and engage with public spaces, as well as how these public spaces are managed, with the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Government’s efforts in Canberra emerging as an exemplar.
Smart cities collect electronic data from the Internet of Things (IoT) and data sensors – for example, in car parks, public transport, or inside public buildings – to determine the ways in which spaces are used and enjoyed. The data collected is then used to create better and more efficient ways to manage assets and resources.
In its 2016 Statement of Ambition, the ACT Government expanded this definition, arguing that smart cities do not only use digital platforms to redesign services, but also employ “technology to more fully engage with residents, more effectively and efficiently manage the city services, and attract and retain smart people and businesses to shape the city together.”
The ability of the ACT Government to attract talent and present Canberra as a cutting-edge and livable city is in part reliant on its ability to transform into a smart city. “The quality of life and place, the amenities, ambience and facilities of cities become a critical competitive tool in attracting knowledge workers, who are themselves the magnets for external corporate investment and local expansion.”
Over the last few years, the ACT Government has rolled out or piloted a number of initiatives – including an expansive network of free public WiFi, and smart buildings, street lighting fixtures, and parking – to help Canberra meet its ambitions.
Buildings represent a key opportunity for integrating smart city thinking into new and existing infrastructure.
In November 2017, the ACT Government awarded a $110,000 contract to a Canberra-based start-up, Ecospectral, to implement its so-called BRIM System – “a nervous system for buildings” – in the Woden district of Canberra. Using a network of sensors to monitor and manage movement, light, and temperature, the BRIM system will be deployed at public and commercial sector sites across Woden, including its library, bus interchange, and Canberra Hospital to maximise energy and cost efficiency.
Out on the street, smart city thinking about the ways to conserve energy is also being implemented across Canberra’s network of street lighting.
The ACT Government awarded a seven-year contract to maintain and upgrade 79,000 streetlamps to Electrix in November 2017. Under that contract, streetlighting in Canberra will also be maintained by a “digital control maintenance management system”.
This system monitors the streetlighting network in Canberra and automatically detects faults, including dead LED lightbulbs or wire issues. According to Minister for Transport and Municipal Services Meegan Fitzharris, the digital control maintenance management system “will allow us to fix any fault or outage much sooner and mean fewer problems need to be reported by the public.” Electrix began implementing this digital control management system in May 2018.
However, the existing capabilities of smart street lighting – including inbuilt WiFi transmitters – have not been factored into the solution. Streetlights have the capacity to be retrofitted or engineered with municipal WiFi hotspots, or alternatively be equipped with USB or electric car charging stations.
Canberra also operates one of Australia’s largest free public WiFi networks. Called CBRfree, this WiFi network comprises a total of 382 Wireless Access Points (“WAPs”), attracting 50,000 individual users per month. The network has been deployed across many ACT town centres, including Belconnen, Woden, and Dickson, and is being trialed in a pilot run on five buses.
CBRfree is being built in partnership with iiNet, as part of a $2.5 million, five-year contract. This partnership allows the ACT Government to monitor how individual users are accessing the network, including evaluating network effectiveness by monitoring how many users are connected to individual WAPs at a given time.
The ACT Government is also looking to redesign the way motorists find, use, and pay for parking in the capital, piloting a smart parking trial with partner Data61, a division of the CSIRO, in the Canberra suburb of Manuka.
Announced in 2015, the smart parking program uses real-time data to provide drivers information about the availability of parking spaces via a free app called Park CBR. ParkCBR allows drivers to find and pay for parking, based on a network of 460 infrared parking sensors and five LED parking availability street signs. Although the pilot ended in April 2017, according to the OECD, the results of the Manuka trial have not yet been released.
Other Australian jurisdictions looking to make cities smarter
Canberra is not the only Australian jurisdiction pursuing smart city initiatives. Other state and territory governments are also looking to making their cities smarter through utilising technology to improve service delivery, and rollouts of city- and state-wide public WiFi rollouts.
The Victorian Government has since 2016 also rolled out a free public WiFi network for major urban areas in Victoria, including Melbourne, Ballarat, and Bendigo. Called VicFreeWiFi, the network is Australia’s largest with over 1,000 WAPs, and is maintained by TPG under a $6.7 million contract. Similarly, in 2014, the South Australian Government contracted Internode to design and implement Adelaide’s own free WiFi network as part of a $1.5 million, eight-year deal.
In the Northern Territory, Darwin and regional communities including Palmerston and Litchfield stand to benefit from initiatives to integrate new technologies into service delivery. Under a projected $10 million arrangement, Darwin will look to introduce smart parking and lighting, as well as a citywide WiFi network, while the NT Government’s Power and Water Corporation is set to obtain funding to introduce “smart metering, demand management, solar, integrated water and power control system infrastructure” to remote Aboriginal communities.
However, elsewhere smart city initiatives – including smart parking and street lighting – fall under the domain of local councils. In NSW, for example, the Newcastle City Council has announced its ambitions for the Hunter Region to become smarter, with smart lighting, bins, and parking, as well as dedicated smart city and parking apps, under its Smart City Strategy 2017-2021. Likewise, in Queensland the Sunshine Coast Council announced a Smart City Implementation Program (SCIP) for 2016-2019, including a trial of digital water meters and a Public Waste Bin Sensor Project, which would automatically notify council once rubbish bins have been filled.