We sat down with Sandy Tung, Technology & Innovation Lead at Greater London Authority (GLA) to discuss developments, opportunities, and trends in London’s smart city space, as the government looks at ways to promote improved urban mobility and develop smart cities further.
Thank you for joining me today Sandy. First of all, please introduce yourself
Sandy: My name is Sandy Tung. I’m currently the innovation and technology lead at Greater London Authority’s economic development department, which I recently moved into around three months ago.
We are currently running a series of open innovation challenges. This includes a programme looking at design approaches – using design-thinking as a way to stimulate innovation to support London’s recovery from the pandemic. The other part of this is seeing how we can best support business across London using technology.
Previously, I was the programme manager for Sharing Cities, a smart cities programme that is funded by the EU Horizon 2020 Programme, and that was formed of a consortium of 34 partners across the public, private, and academic sectors in London, Lisbon and Milan, as well as fellow cities Bordeaux, Bergas and Warsaw, who look at the solutions we integrated in London, Lisbon and Milan and try to replicate them and scale them up.
We tested many smart city solutions around e-mobility, the built environment, data integration, and community engagement. My background is in sustainability and urban resilience, and prior to this I worked in international development consulting with 100 Resilient Cities, working with cities globally to develop and implement resilient strategies.
I notice you’ve worked on some smart cities projects in Asia Pacific – were any of those in Japan?
Sandy: I’ve not personally worked on smart city projects in Japan, but when I was with Sharing Cities, we formed an MoU with the Smart Cities Institute of Japan to share learning across the two cities. Before joining the GLA, I did some smart cities work in Asia although it wasn’t specifically Japan. I worked with the UK government to look at how we could implement smart cities and share UK expertise to support sustainable urban development in cities in China.
In my previous role at 100 Resilient Cities, I was based in Singapore for two years and we worked on resilient strategies in APAC, including two cities in Japan, in Toyama and Kyoto. We were looking holistically at what helps cities to become resilient, so it was not specifically focused on smart city technologies.
What would you say is the main focus of the UK government / GLA with regards to the development of smart cities in the UK or Europe?
Sandy: London is made up of thirty three local authorities and the GLA sits across those as a regional authority, so it can act as a convenor and as a coordinating body to support the authorities in carrying out the vital work they need to do within their communities. So, our policy on technology and smart cities as a whole is looking at how technology can be used as an enabler to achieve goals on key issues such as sustainability.
Before COVID, that was about using technology to support our sustainable development goals, and help realise the Mayor’s mission to have clean air in London, be sustainable and reach our climate targets, achieve net-zero ambitions and so on. Using technologies like IoT, sensors and buildings, and energy retrofits and related technologies to reduce our energy use and make it more efficient by relying on greener energy production and using local methods for mobility, for example.
Recently, with the onset of the pandemic, the role of technology is has really been used to helping the city adapt to new and difficult environments, looking at how we can use technology to support the most vulnerable communities to adapt to the realities of COVID and the new way that we have to live and work, and remain connected to each other.
For example, through solutions like assisted technology and providing digital access in a very inclusive way so that everyone has access to the internet and computers so they can continue to learn and work. So that’s our general approach and view on technology.
Are there any bigger trends you’ve seen in terms of smart city development?
Sandy: There are several things, as we support businesses and communities to adapt to using new technologies. I recently read a report
Over the past few years, a lot of development has gone into the area of 5G, IoT – maybe it seems like old news now, but emerging tech like digital twins, wearable technologies can help us manage our health and wellbeing. Also, assistive technologies like augmented reality and virtual reality – what does it all look like when it’s all brought together? You end up with a digital space that enriches your experience in a physical space.
The interactions between those technologies are really interesting and advancements like 5G will enable that to happen and allow us to be so much more integrated with the physical and digital surroundings, to do more and spend our time more efficiently. We’re looking at how we can, within the context of all this rapidly developing technology, do these things in a way that is responsible, ethical but also innovative and open so we learn as we go and we’re also sharing that learning.
From the perspective of a local authority, we’re conscious that whatever technological developments happen, they need to be responsible, and respectful of people’s privacy. Our Chief Digital Officer has launched an ‘Emerging Tech Charter’, which sets out the principles by which we would encourage technology providers to abide by. If they’re testing new tech in London, then we want them to do so in a certain way, and we want to continue to learn from that experience.
Are there any particularly notable areas in the UK mobility space which are competitive in an international context?
Sandy: There’s a few interesting things that are happening around Smart Mobility, e-mobility and micro mobility. London is launching its e-scooter trial, so Transport for London (TfL) announced a trial in Spring. We are also in the process of adding e-bikes to the Santander Bike Scheme. This has also been accelerated by COVID, recognising that it’s so important to invest in mobility in general and in ways that are sustainable. So, that means not only electrifying our existing fleet, but also investing in electric charging infrastructure.
It’s also really important that we’re looking at other areas of mobility to encourage the further development of our open public spaces, in a way that supports walking and cycling. That’s what’s been really prevalent over the past couple of months. Cities like Paris are big proponents of the ‘15-minute city’ concept, with places like Milan following suit. In London, we’ve been thinking about a similar approach, and in order for that to be possible, we have to be able to move around our local neighbourhoods easily.
I think e-mobility and micro mobility are two areas that have especially interesting developments. From a user perspective, how do you move from one mode of transport to another in a seamless way? TfL is a world-leader in the adoption of electronic payments, using your credit card, mobile phone to pay for tickets on any type of transport on the TfL network.
We’re thinking about what that might look like alongside e-scooters and other forms of micro mobility, exploring it through the lens of technologies like DLT (Distributed Ledger Technology), and providing support to make the user journey simpler, so they can pick up any kind of transport to move around a neighbourhood. Those are some of the things we’re trying out right now.
Beyond the Boris Bike! That sounds very convenient. London is a huge place and it takes quite a while to get from one side to the other.
Sandy: I’ve tried cycling even just across one part of London, from the South to the West and it’s really far but cycling is faster than driving and that’s the sort of thing we’d like to see more of. It would be really interesting to answer the question of how technology can enable that.
Do you have any advice for international companies looking to get involved in helping spur smart city developments in the UK?
Sandy: I think the most important thing about London is that we are a global city, so we’ve always been a very attractive place to do business. We want to continue to be attractive on an international level. There are a range of testbeds and innovation centres across London. Take the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park for example, or the Royal Docks – these are opportunity areas where we’re actively testing new technologies and also Greenwich was where we tested our Sharing Cities technologies.
In these types of environments, the role of collaboration is absolutely essential, so we’re not just looking to UK businesses, we’re looking internationally to bring the best of what’s available to London. Generally speaking, I think there’s a lot of opportunity there as we are such a global city and so the value of partnerships is extremely high.
How do you see the next 10 years looking? You mentioned earlier about sustainability and having respect for communities, but are there any trends that you think will be especially developed by then?
Sandy: I think we’ll make massive advances across all the technologies that still feel relatively new right now. Assuming that 5G becomes prevalent across all our cities and that enables other technologies to take off, it would be really interesting to see what that will look like in the future.
But there are a couple of things that might drive technological development; one is the impact of COVID, which has fundamentally transformed the way in which we live, work and interact with each other. I think some of these things will go back to the way they were once the pandemic is over, but some of them will stay.
For example, we know that our working policy even after lockdown has been lifted is going to be a working part-time, working from home and sometimes at the office type of situation. We know the way in which we use the spaces and buildings in our city is going to be fundamentally different. I think the boundaries between work, office, home & community will fundamentally change, so there’s an opportunity to reconfigure the city and establish what those boundaries are.
I don’t know where we will end up, but it will certainly look different. I think the role of smart cities and technologies in enabling us to live this way will become even more prevalent. Even simple things like the ability to use Zoom or Microsoft Teams to meet – that technology has advanced a lot over the past 12 months. They existed before COVID but they were limited. I think these are the things that will help accelerate us to a world where the virtual world and the real world are much more linked.
From a public sector point of view, the way we use data to assist local authorities to make the best of their local spaces is going to be really important too. What will that look like in 10 years’ time? I don’t imagine there will be spaceships flying around everywhere, but I think tech will be so embedded and integrated into our daily lives that we barely notice it, but it will feature in everything, from work life to home life.
Thank you so much for your time Sandy! We very much appreciated the insights.
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