As global population is growing and increasingly moving to urban areas, cities struggle to keep the pace with the mounting demand for energy and water, infrastructures and mobility systems, and efficient public services. City managers have to deal with complex and multi-faceted challenges, as they balance the expected urban development with limited resources, while also answering the pressing call to stand up against climate change.
Building an inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable community is a matter of intensive policy coordination and investment choices. That’s why cities are looking at the Internet of Things (IoT) to build reliable urban infrastructures and enable a data-driven management of urban services.
Paradox Engineering is exactly about this. Established in Switzerland in 2005, and part of global MinebeaMitsumi group, the company has a unique technological vision and develops pioneering IoT solutions for cities, utilities and other smart environments.
Interoperability and openness
Several cities around the world rely on Paradox Engineering’s flagship platform PE Smart Urban Network to manage all kinds of public services – from energy distribution to street lighting, parking management to solid waste collection, pervasive WiFi to traffic video surveillance, and more – over the same integrated infrastructure. Watchwords of this solution are interoperability and openness.
“Considering technology today, having different networks controlling different services would be anachronistic for a city. Interoperability means any urban application can be monitored and actioned through a single platform, with less complexity and costs, and huge benefits in terms of effectiveness, scalability, and sustainability”, states Gianni Minetti, CEO at Paradox Engineering. “Openness is also a tremendous opportunity for cities. Taking advantage of a standard-based network, local stakeholders and businesses can design their own innovative applications and services, sharing innovation and stimulating mutual growth.”
Although open standards have been legitimised in the last few years, they are still somewhat worrisome, since some city managers might assume an open infrastructure is less secure than traditional, legacy technologies. But Paradox Engineering has a persuasive view about this.
“Let’s review the evolution of the Internet: we wouldn’t have what the web offers us today if it was built on the proprietary, closed and vendor-locked technologies that were mainstream until the late 1980s. Openness and interoperability are the bedrocks of any urban development to be defined smart, and they are not synonyms of more vulnerability,” adds Minetti. “Since the very inception of PE Smart Urban Network, back in 2011, and now as members of the uCIFI Alliance, we have always envisioned openness together with security-by-design principles. Today, we are moving one step forward by integrating blockchain technology in our platform.”
What is blockchain?
We tend to look at blockchain as a brand new technology, but it was actually a theory put forward all the way back in 1991 by the mathematician Stuart Haber and his colleague W. Scott Stornetta, who first described a digital hierarchy system called “blockchain” to order series of transactions through digital timestamps. In 2008, blockchain as we think of it today was conceptualised by Satoshi Nakamoto and implemented the following year as a core component of the cryptocurrency bitcoin.
Simply put, blockchain allows individuals and organisations to make instantaneous, secure transactions over a distributed network. Differentfrom the Internet, where information is transferred by duplication, blockchain allows a share in ownership only. As a new combination of mature technological concepts, including peer-to-peer networks, distributed consensus algorithms, validity rules, ledger technologies and cryptography, blockchain can be successfully applied in any domain where relations are based on trust and may be entirely disintermediated.
This is particularly relevant for cities. Picturing a city as a smart network of connected urban objects (streetlights, meters, parking lots, waste bins, Wi-Fi hotspots, video surveillance cameras, etc.), blockchain allows all components and devices to be linked to each other by the same cryptographic chain of trust and enable accurate, secure, immutable information exchanges among them.
Therefore, the primary reason to endorse blockchain is cybersecurity.
Cybercrime is a risk that cities can no longer overlook. According to industry experts, more than 70 percent of all reported ransomware attacks in the US in the last two years targeted state and local governments. Lloyds estimated that New York City alone could face over $2.3 billion cyber-related losses in 2020.
Granting the highest possible levels of data integrity, validity and immutability, blockchain technology makes commissioning and operational procedures over smart urban infrastructures intrinsically secure.
“Thanks to blockchain-powered applications, cities can move away from the conventional ‘bastion defence’ paradigm to benefit from security-by-design network systems, where vital public services can be safely hosted and managed. That’s a huge step forward in mitigating cities’ vulnerabilities, and finally treat cybersecurity as a public good,” adds Minetti.
New urban economies
In smart cities, all urban devices connected to the IoT network have the capability to receive and transmit data and execute commands, enabling remote monitoring and dynamic, adaptive control functions. Smart lighting is a popular example: by acquiring data from street lamps and correlating them with calendar occurrences, environmental conditions or vehicle transit, we can switch and dim lights exactly where and when required, thereby reducing energy consumption, optimising costs, improving quality of service and boosting citizen satisfaction.
But what if device-related data could be monetised and turned into revenues?
Thanks to blockchain, data from streetlights, parking lots, waste bins, environmental sensors, and other urban objects can be transformed into tradable tokens. Think of the information a parking sensor generates about the car lot being vacant or busy: it can become a token and traded; parking operators can buy these “info-tokens” to design and offer their own smart parking services. These can fuel private businesses, while cities turn their parking sensor investment into revenue, at the same time benefitting from lower traffic and pollution, and higher quality of life.
“Info-tokens” can be derived from virtually any sensor in the urban network. Universities, start-ups and any other local organisation can design innovative applications and services by mashing-up different data streams.
“Information is the new asset class for cities in the XXI century. Smart cities cannot be limited to connecting devices and automating processes: they are about data becoming tangible value for the benefit of all. Cities will be increasingly challenged to change their game, and turn investments aimed at cost savings into opportunities for revenue and new economies generation. We are ready to shape and support this transformation, providing technologies that enable urban innovation and new business models,” states Minetti.
About Paradox Engineering
Paradox Engineering is a technology company that designs and markets Internet of Things solutions for device and data management in open cities and other smart environments. Established in 2005 and headquartered in Switzerland, the company is part of MinebeaMitsumi group, a leading global provider of Electro Mechanics Solutions™ , and controls Tinynode –which specialises in smart parking technologies.
For further information, please visit www.pdxeng.ch
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