The development of smart cities is already a reality in many parts of the world and, because of this concept, others have also emerged such as smart citizen, or citizen as sensor (YaaS), in which the citizen is placed as a center to enhance innovation and meet their needs, while making management more efficient. We review how this idea came about and how it is being carried out in several cities around the world.
Many cities around the world are already smart, thanks among other elements to the installation of sensors and the management of the information they collect. The concept of Citizen as Sensor, YaaS (You as a Sensor), intends to take this idea a step further and discover and solve problems that people have in their daily lives.
How does the citizen work as a sensor?
In the past, knowing what a citizen thinks or needs was a very complicated task that involved many resources. The new technology has made it possible to reduce this gap in the relationship between the Government and the citizen. Now it is possible to know what problems people have and not just focus on macroeconomic data that give a general idea of economic reality, but not a precise and concrete picture of current difficulties.
This technology that allows this important approach to improve the day to day of the population, consists of sensors installed throughout the city that offer a continuous flow of data of various aspects, such as consumption, electricity or water.
Not only the sensors are responsible for providing data, but also the citizens themselves do it constantly, since, at present, we live permanently connected to the Internet through smartphones, wearables (such as smartwatches) and the Internet of the Things (more and more devices in the house have access to the Internet to improve their functions).
To get an idea of the amount of information that is generated daily, the concrete data is 2.5 trillion bytes. In only the last two years of the history of humankind, 90% of data has been produced from around the world. These figures (and many more that Forbes compiled in 2018) give an idea of the potential behind all this.
In addition, according to the latest report of the company specializing in software DOMO, it is estimated that in 2020 each person will generate 1.7MB of data per second. Therefore, the future lies in the data and in taking advantage of the power they have to improve the lives of citizens.
Therefore, the lack of data on the daily activity of citizens is not really a problem, since, day by day, we produce a huge amount of information. The question is whether this information is being used and exploited to improve the lives of people and meet the needs that arise over time.
Thanks to data engineering and geolocation, the analysis of all the data we produce allows us to draw a profile of the life of the city, of what we could define as its personality. Subsequently, thanks to the semantic analysis of the city, a much more complete profile is achieved. In addition, social networks also play a very important role, since, thanks to hashtags, we can know what the population of the city thinks, the things that concern them and what they like.
Ciudad2020 and its support for the citizen as a sensor
In 2013, the Ciudad2020 project was implemented in Spain in three different cities: Barcelona, Malaga and Santander. Within this set of innovative actions, the citizen as sensor had an important weight and initiatives were promoted such as the creation of a global platform for recording incidents, in which multimedia material could be uploaded to illustrate the case better.
The possibilities of this implementation were very wide in various departments of the city. For example, in the transport it allows to know the real-time status of roads, the operation of public transport or parking spaces available in a certain place.
With this information, the citizen has the means to know what is the best way to get to a site using public transport or where you are more likely to find free parking. The ultimate goal is the development of an integrated urban transport service.
In 2019, the Santander Smart Citizen project continues to develop the concept of citizen as a sensor through concrete practical actions, such as the citizen card. Thus, anyone can use this card (or even the mobile application if you do not carry it with you) to get on the bus, ask for a registration form, take out a book from the library, and so on.
Within this innovation project, technological spaces will also be created to access information of general interest through interactive screens, with Wi-Fi access points and charging stations for mobile phones, as well as games for the little ones to be entertained.
Another example of the resolution of citizens’ problems and a more efficient management of municipal resources can be found in Bristol, England. After several meetings at City Hall, they discovered that one of the biggest concerns of the city was the humidity in the homes.
Taking this into account, a program was designed in which the volunteers placed a sensor in their homes that collected and stored the temperature, humidity and condensation point data every five minutes.
Carrying out this project, according to the CEO of the Spanish innovation company Ideas for Change, Mara Balestrini, “instead of spending around 15.5 million pounds a year trying to deal with health problems caused by humidity, there is an opportunity to solve these problems through initiatives led by citizens”.
The case of Bristol is the perfect example in which the two main advantages of the citizen-as-sensor approach are condensed: their problems are solved and their needs are met and, in addition, a much more efficient management of public resources is carried out, which can be focus on more urgent and necessary issues.
Improving the life of the citizen through Europe 2020
All these measures and initiatives carried out by different municipalities are framed within the policies of Europe 2020, a framework of work to increase the quality of life of citizens of the European Union. This in turn is within Horizon 2020, the set of policies aimed at technological development.
In 2015, a review of the Europe 2020 strategy was carried out and it was concluded that it was still a valid proposal to achieve the growth objectives. The European Commission decided to implement the European Semester as a monitoring measure of the progress made.
At the time of uniting both parts of the equation, that is, the Administration and the citizen, we have the Urban Democracy, an idea that arises to place the two agents involved in an equal position.
Thus, the technology that allows the collection of data in real time and the creation of metrics and analytics from these, serves as a link for, ultimately, society in general to improve, both for the satisfaction of citizens and for a more efficient management of resources.
The current trend is the increase of sensors in cities to have an even greater and more precise knowledge of what happens in them. In addition, we discussed in another post the advantages of opening the data in real time in this regard.
This potential increases remarkably with the model in which each one of us works as a sensor, in which through our devices we help to feed open data portals with the intensity of traffic on a certain road or the electricity consumption of an area, among many other activities.
The result is cities where resources are harnessed much more efficiently, it becomes ecological and the quality of life increases. Therefore, all these actions end up contributing to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) promoted by the United Nations, which place the focus on such important issues as climate change, economic inequality, innovation or sustainable consumption.
Therefore, it is vital to implement strategies that put the citizen at the center, and we have already verified that in several parts of Spain and other parts of the world, great efforts are being made to achieve it.