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PHL’s ‘Smart Cities’ dream: Too slow?

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WE live in a world where almost everything we need is in the palm of our hands. From our consumption of food, to processing bank transactions, to ride hailing and down to social needs, the smartphone with an Internet connection has all that we need. Now, imagine if mobile phones have the capacity to solve our mobility problems, a possibility that experts say would be the case in the next decade, if technological investments were to be ramped up. The digital arena has been changing the landscape by which people are living in, and it is inevitable that the transportation industry will be disrupted by this phenomenon. While the Internet has ushered advanced economies to better traffic management, this is not yet the case for the Philippines.

In developed countries, such as Switzerland, Germany and Sweden, there exists so-called Smart Cities, wherein almost everything is connected by the Internet. There are self-driving cars, automatic garages and other automated transport processes designed to make a commute simpler.“I can’t imagine how the concept will work for the traffic in Manila. But, I think, life will change within the next 10 years—dramatically. We just have to wait and see,” Hans Dietrich Haasis said during a forum on “Urban Mobility and Its Interconnection with Transportation Networks” in Quezon City.

Smart Cities

HAASIS defines Smart Cities as cities that are “digital, data-based and integrated” with the capacity to be productive through technology while being human-centric.These cities are resource efficient and sustainable, according to Haasis, a University of Bremen professor, with expertise in port management, business administration and transport economics. “The digital shift is changing the way people live. But in order for us to be smart, we should innovate in three areas: product, process and structure,” Haasis said. “Being ‘Smart’ means to develop, to implement and to use digital service innovations.” Such a concept, he said, is applicable to all transportation fronts: land, sea and air.

“What is important is that this allows us to improve the quality of living and working by making processes more efficient through innovation,” Haasis said. Hamburg University of Technology Prof. Carlos Jahn defines digitization as the conversion of analog data into digital form. “It also means that it is a new approach to create new business models. There are many aspects around it,” he said. “It’s about connectivity, the cloud, Internet of Things, smart devices, decision support, big data and the automation of knowledge and work.”

Ordinary citizens

ACCORDING to Jahn, “It is the use of digital technologies to change a business model to provide new revenue and value-producing opportunities—it is the process of moving to a digital business.” Jahn cited, for example, the ongoing digitization of seaports in Germany. “For instance, the port of Hamburg can now forecast the exact arrival time of ships. It can also manage vessel traffic through a service center,” he said. He explained these can be achieved through the use of big data, which includes statistics from several entities that provide records of local weather, current, tides, locks and even traffic density. “With this data, we can have better utilization of resources, provide improved and safe flow of traffic toward seaports, and even proactively plan the use of resources,” Jahn said. It was also applied to manage the traffic of trucks coming in and out of the port of Hamburg, which has led to several decisions that made the whole process more efficient.

“Hence, digitization is a key driver to increase efficiency, as it provides numerous applications to synchronize the use of resources,” Jahn said. University of Hamburg Prof. Stefan Voss explained data can be sourced even from ordinary citizens because of the “continuous smartphone usage”. “It is one of the trends in human life today that we can use to gather information to solve certain problems such as traffic,” he said.

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