FEATURE article: 'Plug and play' in Smart Communities of the future
Combine smart communities with a smart grid and the benefits for humanity could be profound
Around five years ago a group of scientists working for the German government coined the term the “fourth industrial revolution” to describe the coming wave of technological innovation that will change the way we live, work and relate to one another.
A world where real-time connectivity of machines, devices, sensors and people leads to a blurring of the lines between the physical, digital and biological worlds. We’re already seeing this world taking shape - our interactions with virtual assistants like Siri, the ability to temperature control our house from afar, or know in advance how many cars are on the road we’re about to take. But there’s so much more to come.
Get the revolution right, says World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab, and we’ll improve the quality of life for people everywhere. Get it wrong, and we’ll drive greater inequality.
What would a smart community that gets it right look like?
In a world where you have energy in place with every machine, human or device, says futurist Ross Dawson, there will be tangible implications for health, climate, the cost of energy, sustainability and transport.
Health and ageing
As the world’s population ages, smart communities will become far more proactive with healthcare, using the vast amount of new data available to them.
“If you look at all the trajectories of demographics and health, the current expectation of healthcare is really not sustainable,” says Dawson.
“It’s inevitable we will push treatment of conditions to the community.”
Dawson says it won’t just be the case that we delegate medicine and caregiving to robots or telehealth.
“We can have human caregivers who are local, because you won't need to travel across town.”
The answer to more proactive healthcare lies in what will be deeply data-based homes - think smart bathrooms that test your breath, what’s going into your toilet, sensors in homes that observe your gait, blood pressure, arrhythmia, and when you sit down, but also measure different aspects of cognitive decline.
“The aggregation of this data then allows this complement of home robotics plus connection to family and friends plus community care, to be able to support people,” says Dawson.
And data on energy use will also play a role, says Martin Hauske, Asia Pacific Energy Segment Sales Leader at Nokia.
“If that morning nobody opens the door of the fridge then that could be a sign the person has fallen on the way to the kitchen,” for example. “Or if energy consumption is flatlining then the person may not be well.”
Ultimately, it’s about analysis of data to help people live an independent life for longer.
“The more visibility you have on energy consumption and behaviour, with a little bit of analytics you can see where strange things are happening.”
Realising the idea of energy in place with everyone and every thing could also help the world better cope with a warming climate.
“How do we optimise for heat waves?” asks Dawson.
“Basically the single greatest leverage point for being able to optimise energy consumption for addressing heat and cold is around the individual - heating and cooling clothes rather than heating or cooling an entire space.”
Imagine a T-shirt that is both a warming and cooling device, capturing as well as expending energy.
“Individuals can create energy through walking,” says Dawson.
“So think about some of the handoffs from energy within the household say if you sit down on a chair you might be able to have energy transfer there - if clothes are able to store energy.”
And what if your smart and connected home knows exactly what the weather will be doing tomorrow?
“If your house knows it's going to be hot on the weekend then it will start to take advantage of that when prices are lower beforehand to store that energy.”
The idea of energy efficiency could be taken to its extreme in a world where your appliances are connected to spare energy from your car, which in turn got its spare energy from trading energy independently with your neighbours.
Today’s advances in energy aren’t adopted equally, says Nokia’s Hauske, leading to energy poverty.
Those who can afford it put solar on their rooftops. People renting apartments don’t have the option, yet still have to help pay for the grid changes necessary to support higher solar adoption. Poorer people buy cheaper less energy efficient appliances and then end up with bigger energy bills.
Smart communities will harness information to level the playing field.
For example, says Hauske, a smart grid with all devices connected would mean individuals would know in advance what their appliances might end up costing in energy use. And they wouldn’t have to buy their own batteries for energy storage.
“Whether you or the utility own the battery won’t really matter in the end because you will get some kind of benefit and share the benefit with the utility - they do all the work and you save money. That’s the biggest part of addressing energy poverty.”
In this world, energy companies will have morphed into distribution service operators rather than simply distributors, says Hauske.
“So it's a lot more like YouTube where I enable my consumer to consume video (ie. energy). They can create videos and upload them, and I’m supporting this trend and making sure everything runs smoothly.”
Operating as independent autonomous agents, the vehicles you might call on to help move you around in a smart community will help manage traffic flow, energy use and public safety.
Researchers expect gridlock will be a thing of the past thanks to more flexible working situations, and fewer cars. Drones and robotics will take delivery vehicles off the roads, and smart communities will prioritise green spaces and improved air quality.
Smart communities will have moved beyond simply offering fast charging stations for EV owners. EV charging for individuals will be set aside for longer journeys. Smaller journeys will be covered by more popular public transport options that include cars, but also electric bikes and scooters made more attractive by quieter roads.
The batteries in larger vehicles will be used to help stabilise the grid when required.
Next month: Taxing EVs ignores future of electrified transport