It is sometimes said that everything in life is connected by six or fewer steps. This idea of ‘six degrees of separation’ is very nice in principle, but it does not always seem so coherent in practice. However, the rise of social media and the Internet of Things are bringing connectivity to the fore. New ways of connecting and working remotely are making both business and modern life more mobile and connected.
There is a lot of talk about social media friendships meaning that nobody bothers to go out and meet anymore. Paradoxically, however, it is now possible to reconnect quickly and smoothly with old friends or colleagues via social media, and maintaining a flourishing network has never been easier. These new and old connections are creating and improving social cohesion, and in turn enabling business and community growth. Smart mobility is resulting in new ways to work remotely, and this means less pressure on transport networks and other city infrastructure. It is also changing patterns of migration, as people do not have to move to work in different countries.
Four events, past and future, show some of the range of topics that can be considered as part of a ‘connected society’.
The theme of the 2018 conference of the International Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC) was mobility and smart infrastructure, and it was held in Berlin. The conference focused on a more integrated and holistic approach to urban development, recognising that this is necessary if we are to create sustainable urban environments into the future. Over two days, the conference first examined global perspectives on mobility and smart infrastructure, including the impact of digital technology on business, and the effect of the digital economy on smart cities. It then moved on to examine smart infrastructure and urban sustainability and connectivity, looking towards the future of the engineering consulting industry in a connected world.
Two years ago, the European Federation of Engineering Consultancy Associations held its annual conference in Copenhagen, with a focus on sustainable solutions, and the role of cities, companies and consultants. Like the 2019 host city for this event, Dublin, Copenhagen is taking a new approach to design to make this city work for their residents. In Copenhagen, the focus has been on cycling, and sustainable transport. In Dublin, it is smart infrastructure, but both cities are determined to focus on the needs of the city’s population. The Copenhagen event may have been two years ago, but many of the themes still resonate today, such as the importance of design in creating sustainable projects, building sustainability into infrastructure, renewable energy and other long-term assets, and learning from the experience of other smart cities.
Smart Mobility 2018, held in San Francisco, started from a recognition that the Internet of Things has already changed many aspects of life, from health to transport, but that future changes are likely to be far more revolutionary. It considered in particular transportation, noting that almost every form of transport in cities now incorporates some form of automation. Although this conference focused on the US experience, it recognised that smart transport is improving the quality of life of city residents around the world. Attendees discussed new transport networks that are delivering reduced pollution, and more predictable timetables because predictive maintenance is resulting in fewer breakdowns. They also heard about integrated and intelligent transport networks being built around users, to sense demand, monitor the physical state of components and vehicles, and provide improved automation and safety.
Dubai is ambitious for the future: it wishes to become the smartest of smart cities. It is therefore, perhaps, not surprising to see that it is hosting a major conference on smart mobility in 2019. The conference, Middle East Smart Mobility, is expected to attract over 7,500 attendees, with more than 850 attending the conference itself, 300 exhibitors and over 200 speakers from across the Middle East and beyond. Urban transport leaders and planners will be engaging with the wider community at the conference, discussing the big issues of the day, from intelligent transport systems, urban travel and sustainability mobility through to payments and ticketing systems. Smart mobility solution vendors will be showing off their products at the linked exhibition, ensuring that participants get a real feel for the future.