The university campus or the Smart City within a Smart City
The difficulties that big cities encounter in transforming into Smart Cities are at least equal to those of large companies facing digital transformation. Perhaps even more, since the infrastructure is sometimes several centuries old. Geographic and demographic constraints also make some plans difficult to accomplish, not to mention the diversity in equipment and the behavior of the populations concerned. They remain a major obstacle to developing innovations based on the use of real-time data.
We can more easily understand the infatuation on the part of startups who are looking to equip the Smart City. Indeed, their goal is to test their ideas on university campuses based on the North American model. They want to create an actual city within a city which sometimes accommodates more than 100,000 students.
Of course, it also includes housing, roads, stadiums, restaurants and even shops. Universities also have laboratories and researchers. As a result, they naturally host a fair number of “Smart Tech Companies”, and also provide a very favorable environment for real-world testing.
So, which universities are most advanced with respect to the Smart City concept?
In the United States, the University of Texas at Austin has, for example, developed its own smart system for managing energy resources. This system also ensures total autonomy.
Not to be outdone, the University of Michigan has installed a system of self-driving shuttles. They run along the main arteries and serve buildings along a more than three-kilometer route within the campus. These Arma vehicles, developed by the French company Navya, are equipped with:
- a LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) system
- RTK (Real Time Kinematik) GPS
- cameras for ensuring the safety of their fifteen passengers
The data analyzed may later allow us to imagine the famous school bus as a self-driving vehicle.
What are the initiatives in the U.K.?
In Scotland, the University of Glasgow is also testing several projects using Artificial Intelligence. This includes the management of electrical resources and on-demand bus traffic.
The Metropolitan University of Manchester is attempting to promote an overview of the projects, and to integrate them in a cross-disciplinary way instead of by department, as is still too often the case on British campuses.
Tori Brown, head of IT at the university, states that, “The concept of the Smart Campus first emerged in 2016. Faced with an increasing number of projects, it seemed important for us to assemble them around a story that demonstrates student engagement and our desire to use technology to help them.“
In the same vein, in Australia, Deakin University in Victoria has developed a voice-controlled personal assistant. Similar to Siri, it uses AI to become a virtual everyday companion for students.
France: an example to follow?
Some universities within France are already envisioning Smart Campuses. This is the case for La Rochelle, who has announced a Smart Campus on the horizon for 2050 (perhaps a bit far out). We can already imagine a “low-carbon, sustainable, digital, responsible, intelligent, connected and integrated Smart City“ campus. The project proposes:
- studying and promoting sustainable mobility
- limiting the impact of campus traffic on the environment
- improving the energy efficiency of buildings
- building biodiversity, all while imagining a virtual campus and placing the approach within a positive reinforcement loop of continuous improvement through data analysis.
Lille 1 and the Sunrise project
At Lille 1, the SunRise project was started in 2010 by the Department of Civil Engineering and Geo-Environment. The goal is, here again, to turn the university into a giant laboratory – we might even say a small intelligent city for testing all the latest developments related to AI.
The approach is to then implement them into metropolitan areas. Researchers from Quatar, China and Morocco draw inspiration from this campus of 25,000 inhabitants and 150 buildings. It’s, in fact, equipped with sensors to measure water distribution systems, heating and electricity as well as their circulation.
The expertise accumulated in just a few years is priceless. As explains Professor Isam Shahrour, who heads up the laboratory, “We now know where to place the sensors in order to collect the right information. It’s better to have one sensor in the right place than ten others that are poorly placed.”
It’s easy to see that university campuses have many advantages in the race for innovation. They remain centers of attraction and have indispensable resources for creating and testing equipment with applications that will be used in future smart cities. Cradles for innovative and futuristic companies, universities are no longer just centers for academic research, but are also places with perfect track records for projecting into the future.