Bid to build world’s first intelligent city

4 Sep 2008

A team of university researchers have raised €9m to research the use of geospatial technology, which could result in street-level intelligence in the cities of the future, where pedestrians can point devices at buildings and get cinema times, sales information and lunch offers.

“The first intelligent city is not that far away,” said Professor Stewart Fotheringham from NUI Maynooth, who is leading the team.

“Picture a person walking down the street with a hand-held device, which they point at each building. As they pass the cinema, the device will tell them what’s on; as they pass a restaurant, the device gives them the menu; as they pass an office block, the device tells them what firms are located in the block, their line of business and contact numbers.

“The applications from spatial visualisation and location-based services are very exciting.”

Fotheringham’s project is called StratAG – Strategic Research in Advanced Geotechnologies – which brings together cutting-edge technological research from multiple areas around themes of geospatial monitoring and early warning systems.

The project has received over €9m in funding from Science Foundation Ireland (SFI).

Geotechnology has been named alongside biotechnology and nanotechnology as a key growth area, globally.

The project team comprises 40 researchers from Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin, Dublin Institute of Technology, as well as NUI Maynooth. The project combines a number of research areas including sensor integration, spatial algorithms, spatial visualisation and location-based services.

“The team assembled under Professor Fotheringham is amongst the best in the world in geotechnology and the research they are carrying out is of huge public relevance – in Ireland and throughout the world,” said Professor Frank Gannon, director general of SFI.

“It is projects such as this that bring together outstanding academic researchers with industry to carry out joint research activities which will provide the cornerstone for future Irish economic growth.”

The research has attracted a lot of interest from industry and currently has a number of private sector industry partners including: ESRI, eSpatial, PMS and Navtech, alongside government agencies. 

“A key challenge we are working to solve is to get a common language between all the different types of sensors, such as CCTV, satellites and Radio Frequency ID monitors, so we can develop a more complete picture of what is happening in an area,” Fotheringham explained.

“Then we need to develop the computer algorithms to process this data and turn it into useful information for decision-makers.”

NUI Maynooth is already using the new technology to beneficial effect in devising its emergency management plan.

A full 3D computer replica of the NUI Maynooth North Campus is being created by the project team and via sensors placed throughout the campus. Real-time feedback on student movement patterns can be fed back to the model to enable the development of optimum health and safety procedures.  

The products of this research could have substantial impact on the lives of ordinary people. The successful integration of sensor feedback will enable motorists to receive live traffic updates directly to satellite navigation systems, which will then be capable of advising them on traffic jams, as well as suggesting alternate routes and directions specific to each vehicle.

There are also important applications of this technology that would benefit the quality of life for the disabled. For example, using the real-time 3D computer model of an area, a visually impaired individual could be warned of unexpected obstacles in his or her path to avoid accidents.

The research also has many social applications. “Location-based technology aims to allow friends and family to find each other by tracking each other on their mobile phones, giving their location in real-time. The possibilities for this line of research are endless, entering what was once thought to be the realm of science fiction!” Professor Fotheringham explained.

By John Kennedy

Pictured: the city of the future may no longer just be science fiction

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years