The best smart cities put people not tech first, says Panasonic
- Panasonic supports its people-friendly smart city solutions by focusing on pillars of sustainability, mobility, and communications
More than half of the world’s population live in the major cities of the world today, and the United Nations projects that to increase to 68%, or two whole thirds of the world’s population by 2050.
With a mass migration towards the world’s urban centers, cultivating technological solutions that makes city-living more habitable and sustainable, grows in urgency. These so-called ‘smart cities’ can help alleviate the pressures on a city’s infrastructure that increasing population sizes undoubtedly bring.
What makes a city smart, is when it harnesses the power of technology to provide services for its residents and to solve key problems within the city, such as improving policy efficiency, reducing waste and inconvenience, improving social and economic quality, and maximizing social inclusion.
Efficient policies and green initiatives will contribute greatly towards developing more sustainable townships, but can a smart city truly fulfill its intended goals without a focus on addressing the direct needs of its inhabitants?
“People [need to be] at the center of its development,” Panasonic Asia Pacific’s Takehiko Ryu told Tech Wire Asia. For over 40 years, Panasonic has leveraged its experience in developing large-scale, integrated solutions and applying them towards various smart city technologies. The common thread to all these initiatives is that technology must support a human-focused design.
“A smart city with its people as the central focus leverages technology to improve the quality of life of its citizens and provide a clean and sustainable living environment through the application of smart energy, security, mobility, and wellness solutions,” reiterated Ryu, the Southeast Asia and Oceania regional head who is also the managing director for Panasonic Asia Pacific.
In 2014, Panasonic built a 1,000-home, sustainability-oriented model town over a reclaimed plant site, where smart city innovations could be tested and implemented for a live community. The development came to be known as the Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town (Fujisawa SST) in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan.
“With Fujisawa SST, we created a sustainable smart town where participating companies and residents are deeply involved in building the community,” said Ryu. “Residents get to define the objectives of the town, interact, and exchange ideas with the other stakeholders to co-create ideas and solutions that ultimately improve the lives of everyone.
“The residents there not only lead eco-friendly and smart lifestyles, they are also well-supported by five smart services across energy, security, mobility, wellness, and community.”
Innovations from Fujisawa SST are used to accelerate the development of future smart cities and towns, like Panasonic’s latest smart city projects, ‘Future Living Berlin’, a “real-life technology showcase and development platform for us to understand the needs of the local Berlin residents better, and develop new business models to accelerate the development of smart homes, smart buildings and smart cities.”
Many of Panasonic’s bespoke smart city projects focus on developing innovations for future cities, 100 years from now. As such, sustainability becomes a critical focus. “There is a need for more integrated urban planning across all levels of the city’s leadership, stakeholders, and residents – with the help of technology, to enable sustainable development in a way that improves the quality of life for its people now and into the future,” explained Ryu.
“This is the reason why sustainability is rooted in the core of smart city concepts,” he emphasized. “Not only are smart cities designed for the optimal usage of space and resources, they also encourage a more efficient distribution of resources to reduce the environmental impact of cities.”
Over the years, the company learned that every city was unique, and thus every smart city required a tailored approach, one that meets the needs and lifestyle aspirations of its people. “We need to be mindful of the country’s needs and create a concept for a smart community lifestyle based on residential comfort, regional characteristics, and future living patterns,” Ryu said.
“In Indonesia, we provide several approaches to pursuing smart cities, such as clean air solution, water purification, and safety through multi-functional streetlights which are equipped with digital signage, solar panels, sensors, speakers and alarm buttons,” he explained.
Mr Ryu sees Singapore and Tokyo as having shown good potential to become true smart cities.
Singapore’s compact size, technologically-savvy population, strong IT infrastructure, and a strong government are helping push the development and implementation of Smart Nation projects, he said. The city-state has been transforming key industries such as healthcare, education, transport, urban solutions, and finance, and recently rolled out its national digital identity (NDI) platform to enable citizens to transact digitally with the public and private sectors in a convenient and secure manner.
As the host for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games, Tokyo is also well-positioned to become “a true smart city”, continued Ryu. “With the city actively driving extensive experimentation and technological innovation in the areas of security, sustainability, and tourism, we believe that this will catalyze its development into a smart city for the future.
“Beyond Singapore and Tokyo, countries in Southeast Asia such as Indonesia and Vietnam have also made clear of their ambitions to develop smart cities for the future.”