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OPINION | Wang Yi: U.K. leads the world in building smart cities

08 March 2017 | By By Wang Yi (trans./ed. Yuan Wanqi, Gao Xinyi, Hu Yuanqing and Zhou Jiawen) | Copyedited by Gu Yiqing

  • smart city

    A concept map of smart cities

  • Glasgow

    Glasgow-the biggest city in Scotland

  • The Internet of Things

    The Internet of Things

  • Bristol

    the biggest city located in the southwest of England-Bristol

  • Citymapper

    The user interface of citymapper


he United Kingdom (U.K.) is one of the industrial countries which started to build smart city early. In recent years, the U.K. government has launched numbers of smart city projects which have sharply raised the city’s intellectualization and facilitation.

The British capital London has been striving to develop Intelligent Transportation System (ITS), since traffic jam is still the problem that makes the city headachy. The Split Cycle Offset Optimizing Technique(SCOOT), established by Transport for London (TFL), can not only disperse the traffic but also make traffic lights respond to measured traffic low instead of being timed.

For Londoners, a smartphone app called “Citymapper” is becoming an integral tool for trips, as it tells the detailed information of public transportation in real time. The app can provide alternative plans of travel available as long as you type in the time and place of departure  and arrival. The plans are usually in as much detail:  which bus to take, which stop to transfer, the fare to pay and even which carriage with fewer passengers.

As a kind of Intelligent Vehicles, unmanned vehicles named Ultra pods were used by the Heathrow Airport to transport passengers between the fifth terminal and parking lot. Shaped into a circular form, it seems to be a pod and can move at 25 kilometers an hour with its button being pressed. Although it can only carry four passengers and their luggage every time, it has carried about 1,500,000 passengers for the past five years, reaching a total distance of 3,000,000 kilometers.

Thanks to the U.K. government’s investment in infrastructure construction, ITS has been developing rapidly and can lay the foundation for building smart cities. For example, the Greater London authority installed GPS systems in the buses so that passengers can know the arrival time of buses through the digital display.

In addition to ITS, Royal Borough of Greenwich located in southeast of London was awarded demonstration area of smart cities. In the area, the government will develop 300 intelligent parking spots, shared electric bicycles and energy management system. It will use the Thames to raise the residence’s temperature and set up solar panels to reduce the carbon emission.

Bristol, the biggest city located in the southwest of England, also commits itself to build a Smart City Lab. Focusing on infrastructure construction, the city council builds an £75 million optical network and deploys sensors all over the city to gather detailed information on every aspect of local people’s life including energy use, air quality and traffic flow. A company named Bristol Is Open governed by University of Bristol and Bristol City Council provides a platform where the collected information is available for public sharing on the premise of protecting personal privacy.

The layout of Internet of Things has been greatly improved in the U.K since 2014. The communications company Arqiva and the energy-saving company Sigfox have co-run a low-power Internet of Things in the UK's top ten cities, including London, Edinburgh and Liverpool. This is expected to play a key role in building smart cities especially in aspects of public services and management .

Milton Keynes not far north of London is developing the Internet of Things in cooperation with U.K. department of Commerce on the program “Future Cities” to improve life quality. For example, sensors installed in the bins tell Waste Management Centre the reasonable time and route to collect the waste based on the volume of waste in the bins, according to a management system of waste. This intelligent system will enhance the efficient use of city resources and save the number of waste workers.

Except for cities of England, Glasgow, the biggest city in Scotland, got an future city fund worth £24 million from the U.K. Government’s Technology Strategy Board in 2013. Half of the fund  was spent on a  screen-filled city control center  where the police, traffic authorities and emergency system jointly monitor the whole city. The center connects traffic surveillance cameras, 400 high-definition closed-circuit television (CCTV) and intelligent street lamps all over the city. The system carries a software of face recognition, which saves the police’s time in seeking criminal suspects. Intelligent street lamps can dim the lights automatically when no one passes and make the lights brighter with fast alarm response when there are some unusual circumstances nearby.  The Glasgow government has also invested in predictable crime research which provides estimate or guidance about possible locations and time of the next crime based on the automatically updated algorithm of past crime data.

A smartphone app named “MyGlasgow” allows citizens to report problems of urban facilities and track progress of their reports. The app can receive about 26,000 reports of road potholes per pear and maintenance workers are easy to find the exact location based on the clear map shown on the app.

When building smart cities, the U.K. government is always valuing the creativity of individuals and companies. A report released by the Oxford Economic Research Center recently shows that, the number of emerging technological companies in London has jumped to 12,000 since 2010, leading to a sharp increase of 46 percent in five years. Thanks to £10 million fund and shared information supplied by the British government, more than 12 creative teams have generated revenue worth millions of pounds since 2012. It is predicted that 50 percent of the Internet of Things will be launched by the end of 2017 by those new companies that are established within three years.

A new company named Space Hive, founded in 2012, is the world's first online fund-raising platform for the people's livelihood projects. Hundreds of projects have completed raising funds, which includes£ 790,000 funding, for the construction of wireless network systems of the British town Glyncoch.

As one of the oldest industrial country, Britain has been constantly innovating to find a way out in the era of smart cities.


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SISU News Center, Office of Communications and Public Affairs

Tel : +86 (21) 3537 2378

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Address :550 Dalian Road (W), Shanghai 200083, China

Further Reading