Street smarts: The future of smart cities

smart cities
The Royal Adelaide Hospital was constructed with innovative construction software and is the largest project of its kind in the southern hemisphere. Image credit: Hansen Yuncken.

Digitisation, automation, a growing population and climate change adaptation all require innovative approaches to the way we design and construct smart cities. 

There’s no one definition of a ‘smart city’, but consultancy firm Adelaide Smart City Studio describes them as using technology and data to make our cities more prosperous, innovative, efficient and sustainable. A smart city is one that’s been optimised for residents – and the rest of the planet.

Construction gets an AI makeover

Tech-driven design is causing a stir in construction right now as the use of Building Information Modelling (BIM) kicks off. You may already be familiar with CAD (Computer-Aided Design) software from engineering or graphics classes – BIM takes CAD even further with its ability by providing a digital representation of a building, as well as its functions. For instance, instead of just generating a 3D model of a building, it can model and analyse HVAC (heating, ventilation, aircon) and electrical systems.

With AI capabilities built in to some BIM software, architects and engineers can take a much more hands-off approach. For example, a design team can set the building’s parameters, like its dimensions and load capacity, and BIM will take over – no more manually drawing in walls, doors or columns! This can drastically increase the speed of the design process. 

smart cities
The Royal Adelaide Hospital. Image credit: Hansen Yuncken.

Healthier hospitals

This precinct, which is the largest healthcare facility in Australia, was also the largest in Australia to-date to be delivered using 4D BIM technology (FYI: the ‘4th dimension’ refers to the time schedule). 

A huge benefit was that the end users – hospital staff – were able to easily visualise the precinct with the 3D designs and have their say before building started. 

The precinct consists of 19 separate sectors, and the designers used BIM to test the construction plans of each sector virtually to avoid clashes once real construction began. 

Contractors on site were also able to access all the 2D installation drawings via real-time links with the 3D models on their tablets. 

Find out more about the project in this YouTube video.

Smart bins

New technology isn’t just used for the planning phase of smart cities. Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities can connect buildings, cars and city infrastructure to computer networks to keep cities functioning smoothly.

Case in point: ‘smart bins’, which include sensors that monitor how full they are and inform garbage contractors when they’re ready to be picked up. They can also include heat sensors to alert emergency services in case of fire, and can even be fitted out with solar panels to generate electricity! Last year UNSW started a trial with Sydney’s Georges River Council on how this smart infrastructure can improve public health. Messy bins attract pests and look generally unappealing, so flow on health effects are a real concern. 

The bins provide real time information, so garbage collectors can adjust their routes and more easily prevent those seas of overflowing bins. With long term data, this could mean changing the way waste management functions in cities.

smart cities
Stocklands Aura park. Image credit: Calibre.

Future city

Want to see the future? Check out the Aura development in Baringa, on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, planned for optimal liveability from the get-go. Brooke Hendrick, a civil engineering grad working on the project, describes the plan as “all about using data to create a liveable space.” 

Using global case studies and a whole lot of community input, the space includes new-gen infrastructure such as LED street lights to reduce light pollution, smart bins, community displays (with real-time relevant info such as events and the weather), environmental sensors to monitor air and water quality, WiFi availability in parks, and electric car and bike charging stations. 

A major goal is to better integrate the natural and built environment and encourage community gatherings, so there’s a big focus on public green spaces. Another key aspect is keeping the infrastructure flexible to cope with changing usage. It’s predicted that ride-sharing and self-driving cars will reduce individual car usage in future, so designated ‘drop off’ zones have been included around retail areas.

Aura has also been designed to make it as easy and safe as possible to get around by bike, with cycleways along all major roads and most though-traffic diverted around the estate. “The aim is to provide a good quality of life for the community,” says Brooke.  

The skills behind smart cities

Structural and civil engineering, construction and project management, maths, physics, big data, software engineering … these are all skills involved in developing smart cities. 

On the Aura project, Brooke works with a diverse team including construction managers, civil, structural, mechanical, and electrical engineers, building contractors and landscape architects. 

“Smart cities are the future of large developments and you can see it filtering down to smaller developments too,” says Brooke. “It’s all about connecting the community through tech and engineering design.”

smart cities
Brooke Hendrick at work at Calibre.

Brooke Hendrick’s career path:

>> Bachelor of Engineering (Civil), QUT

>> Student Engineer, Calibre 

>> Graduate Engineer, Calibre

>> Urban Development Engineer, Aura smart city project

ENG + SMART CITIES JOBS

Civil Engineer (Infrastructure): $50K–$183K 

Construction Project Manager: $66K–$165K

Systems Engineering, Infrastructure: $65K–$124K

Salaries according to PayScale.com

Read more about Smart Houses here

This article originally appears in Careers with STEM: Engineering 2019.

CwS Engineering

Larissa Fedunik-Hofman

Author: Larissa Fedunik-Hofman

Larissa is the editorial assistant for Careers with STEM and a Chemistry PhD student. Larissa’s goal is to promote public engagement with STEM through inspiring stories.

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