Thursday, 17 December 2009

IBM – Smart cities and five in five

IBM Logo 2 I was at IBM’s software development lab at Hursley, in the UK, on Monday, for a roundup of the company’s Smarter Planet initiative.  Interesting stuff.  Hursley’s always a good place to get into deep conversations about the future of IT – and the world. 

IBM’s green IT strategy has evolved somewhat over the last year or two.  I blogged on the company’s ‘House of Carbon’ green IT approach almost two years ago now, but, as with the rest of the industry, the focus has turned more towards efficiencies.  In IBM’s case it’s intelligent systems, such as smart grids and intelligent transport systems, under the collective name of a Smarter Planet.  The focus for much of the discussion on Monday was Smart Cities.

IBM emphasises three aspects to the Smarter Planet; instrumentation, interconnection and intelligence.  All three are growing rapidly, providing the building blocks for intelligent systems in general, and smarter cities in particular. 

imageA trivial example is the fact that 45% of cars driving in Manhattan are (according to IBM) looking for a parking space.  The technology is already available to monitor spaces, identify unused ones and pass the information on to drivers, as well as guiding them to the right place.  It’s just a case of pulling together the technology, but the net result is increases parking revenue, reduced traffic on the roads and cuts in emissions (and happy drivers).

You can find a lot more background on IBM’s intelligent systems activity if you click on the IBM link in the ‘Green IT Portals’ panel on the right.

IBM also announced its fourth set of ‘5 in 5’ predictions, which this year are also focused on cities.  The annual list details five innovations that the company believes will change the way we live.  It’s based on market and societal trends as well as emerging technologies from IBM’s labs that can make it happen.  The five innovations are:

• Cars and city buses will begin to run on new battery technology that won’t need to be recharged for days or months at a time. IBM is working to design new batteries that will make it possible for electric vehicles to travel 300 to 500 miles on a single charge, compared with 50 to 100 miles currently.

• In the future, public health officials will know precisely when, where and how diseases are spreading, through tools that better detect, track, prepare for, and prevent infections, such as the H1N1 virus that has caused scares in cities around the world this year.

• With water demand expected to increase six-fold in the next 50 years, cities will install smarter water systems to reduce water waste by up to 50%.  Cities also will install smart sewer systems that don’t pollute rivers and lakes, and purify water to make it drinkable.

• In exchange for reducing their carbon footprint, citizens will receive gift-card credits, with the ability to buy and trade credits in Internet auction marketplaces to offset their daily carbon footprint.  This is effectively individual carbon allowances, which I can’t really see being implemented within five years, but maybe 10.

• Cities will respond to emergencies before they happen by analysing available information.  IBM cites the New York Fire Department, which is developing- a state-of-the-art system for collecting and sharing data in real-time that potentially can prevent fires and protect rescuers.

There’s a lot for IBM to get its teeth into in its Smart Cities initiative, it’s already helping Berlin, Dublin, Malta, New York City and others.  Much of it is going above and beyond the company’s traditional markets and the 5 in 5 predictions imply even more involvement.  The ex-PWC consulting arm is going to be heavily used. 

The largest impact green IT can have is as an enabler, to help the economy as a whole become more environmentally friendly, and that’s what the Smart Planet initiative is about.  IBM is certainly a major player, but I suspect a lot of the innovation that will help us get to a low carbon economy will come from unexpected sources.

© The Green IT Review

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