Urban OS could run entire cities

Thousands of sensors would give feedback to better run a city, but an idea not without its dangers
Emma Woollacott

October 6, 2011
PlanIT Valley

In a hugely ambitious project, engineers are working on a new urban operating system designed to manage everything from traffic lights to the temperature of people’s living rooms.

The Urban OS system, developed by Living PlanIT, would gather information from thousands of sensors all over a city, keeping tabs on traffic flow, energy consumption and waste processing.

“The Living PlanIT Urban Operating System (UOS) converges cloud computing, deep sensing, simulation and analytics with the very fabric of buildings and infrastructure,” says CEO Steve Lewis.

In the event of a fire, for example, it could automatically alert fire crews, control traffic lights to help them speed to the scene, and turn on lights in the affected building to guide residents to safety.

Living PlanIT is now working with Deutsche Telekom at the new Digital Enterprise Centre on the Greenwich Peninsula in London. Together with Cisco, and with funding from the UK’s Technology Strategy Board, it’s aiming to work on connectivity issues and test its technologies.

“This exciting project will deliver the first real world example of the industrialization of the internet – the framework that provides the opportunity for better managed urban spaces, which are more sustainable, efficient and exciting for future citizens,” says the company.

The Urban OS has been created in conjunction with McLaren Electronic Systems, which has also developed a set of ‘PlaceApps’. Eventually, these could be as simple as smartphone apps, allowing city-dwellers to hook into the Urban OS to remotely control household devices via their phone.

Already, Living PlanIT is setting up a real-world project in northern Portugal to test out the OS in practice. PlanIT Valley is now going up on a 4,000 acre plot in the town of Paredes near Porto. It will contain around a million different sensors.

However, the developers reckon that the project could cost as much as 40 percent less than would normally be spent building a town of this size, and be constructed in half the time. Running costs would also be far lower, thanks to the sophisticated resource management of the Urban OS.

PlanIT Valley will initially provide residential, school and research facilities for around 10,000 people, but the aim is to grow it to a city of over 200,000 over a period of a few years.

It hardly needs saying, though, that the idea is fraught with dangers. The developers say they’ll address privacy and security concerns, but with a project this all-encompassing, it’s hard to see how.

Think HAL from ’2001′ – or think hackers; with a whole city to play with, just imagine what something like the Stuxnet worm could do.






 

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