Ina Schieferdecker

Ina Schieferdecker

Director of ICT for Smart Cities initiative at Fraunhofer FOKUS, Berlin

The idea of sustainable urban planning is usually connected to images of green areas, efficient public transportation, and futuristic buildings. But it is the information and telecommunications infrastructure that determines the city’s ability to face the many challenges of creating a livable, prosperous, and future-safe development. Computer scientist Ina Schieferdecker is currently the Head of the Competence Center for Modeling and Testing (MOTION) at the Fraunhofer Institute for Open Communication Systems (FOKUS) in Berlin. FOKUS explores how information and communication technologies contribute to a more comfortable and secure living. MOTION develops solutions inspired by different topics such as the future of the Internet, the medical technologies of tomorrow, and the program ICT for Smart Cities, aimed at not only helping local government authorities share information with its citizens, but also businesses and organizations to innovate novel urban processes and develop new services.

Breaking the Wall of Uninformed Cities. How Open Data Makes Urban Life Smarter


Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. It is a great challenge and a great pleasure to talk to you here. I would like to talk about breaking the wall of uninformed cities. I want to talk about how to open data in order to make our life in the urban environments easier. You may know this statement, but I like to repeat it, because it is really about what this is going about: “We had the century of empires; we had the century of nation states, and we are about to enter the century of cities.” Cities experience a strong competition for people, for business, for culture, for art. Indeed, in 2030, there are going to live more people in cities than in suburban environments. In 2020, it is almost double as many as today that live in cities. Here is a small picture, which shows kind of the distribution of size of the city. So, you see a lot of megacities with about 10 million people in Central and East America, Asia, near Asia, and also in Europe. So, this is pretty much a common issue all over the world. I took some examples: what are the challenges that come with these growing urban environments? They are a massive flows of people. So, I wanted to ask if you realise which cities these are? One is the World Championship for Soccer in Berlin, and the other is when the Pope visited Spain. So, Berlin and Madrid. Or we do have flow of cars, traffic flows: these are traffic jams, I would say: one is Beijing, and the other is in Berlin. One other example: there are, of course, also flows of events, potentially catastrophic events—once again, guess what: Berlin, and this time, Kuala Lumpur. So, when I say, “Breaking the wall of uninformed cities”; so what is information? I came across this curve for computer science, which said that back in 1980 we learned to process data, then we processed information, and we managed the knowledge, and we come up with intelligent choices. But, in fact, I say it is time to get back to the basic data, because that is a source where all the information, all the understanding, all the intelligence comes from—don’t talk about wisdom (I don’t know; maybe I am too young for that); but it is to get back the talk this morning, it is about getting to know what is going on. Indeed, in 2003, the European Community put forward the Public Sector Information directive, which is about opening up government data to the public—for anyone, for any purpose, at no cost. The Sunlight Foundation in the U.S. put forward eight principles that characterise this data being opened.

It is about having complete data, primary data, data that is timely accessible and machine processable; it is about being non-discriminatory, non-proprietary and license-free. So, in short, it is about opening data, as we opened software, as we open interfaces before in ICT. This time we want to get the original data, which is not yet interpreted by anyone—in order to allow the interpretation by anyone. Then the other point is: what is “smart”?—that is even harder to explain, but I think I found a quite good explanation. So, being smart is about being capable of making adjustments that resemble human decisions. I am a computer scientist, so we try to rebuild the intelligent decisions that are made by human beings so that one can react to changing circumstances. In project management, “smart” is even translated into being specific, measurable, accepted, realistic and timely. So, it is really about bringing the information about what is going on in the city in order to allow the right action. So it is not only to be intelligent: that is not enough. It needs to use the intelligence in order to improve things. Of course, these concepts are thought of by quite different people in ICT. This is a picture from Siemens, from Telekom, from IBM; I guess you know it. We try to explain it by short animation. (Film) Our cities change, new cities emerge; they grow, become more and more complex, and become increasingly interconnected. In order to shape cities sufficiently, four core issues are particularly important: through communication, data and information are distributed, processed and understood; energy provides people with light and heat; safety offers stability and trustfulness; mobility allows for flexible and time-efficient travel. With a growing complexity and interconnectedness, the demands on the design of the city increase—not just in the future but already today.

Just think of a light signalling system at a large intersection: the traffic light directs the traffic, and is thereby part of a complex system for the traffic flow management. But, what happens if a traffic light does not function? Traffic comes to a standstill and nothing moves. Senses in the modern communication technology in the car recognise the problem and submit it immediately to the city and its traffic control centre. The information gets processed and transmitted, so that approaching vehicles are given an advanced warning. At the same time, an alternative route is suggested, and the traffic jam circumnavigated. In addition, the problem at the intersection is bypassed and finally solved. That is enough. I think you got an impression about what I wanted to say. So, in the centre, in the heart of these solutions, is information and communication technologies, as Mr. Hüttl said already. In fact, it is not ready-at-hand. You may think that the Internet is ready for that, but we need to interconnect all the things surrounding us. We need to get out the data, as I said, then we build up services and businesses on top of that, which makes up at the end the ‘future Internet’, as we call it. As we establish this future Internet, we provide a nerve system for the city, which allows us to sense that network society we live in. This is a picture from the MIT, which I would like to show at this point in time, because it really resembles this idea of getting to know what is going on. Once we have this information, then we need to cope technically with an enormous amount of data. There is real-time data; we call it also “big data” that need to turn into multimodal information for the people out of structured and unstructured data out of heterogeneous sources and different kinds of data. Maybe to give you a little impression of what I am talking about: we had networking beforehand, in 1986, using one-way broadcast networks. We could use 0.4 zettabytes, which is—you know—I guess megabyte, gigabyte, then there is terabyte, petabyte, exabyte, and—zettabytes. Another example is that if you would digitise all the speeches ever given, this brings us to 42 zettabytes. The Internet is not yet at this size, so in 2012, this year, it is expected to grow to 2.7 zettabytes: all the speeches, 42. So, we are by far not ready to cope with this amount of data.

And, also, it is quite a technical and research challenge. It is also a cultural challenge, because governors, for example, need to turn their way of coping with data from seeing it basically in the public and not in a confidential manner, to publicise the data—not to withhold it, and to give it for free use. So, for example, along given open data licenses. We are all going to turn from the pure consumers into producers. We are going to have our own devices in our living environments, in our enterprises, whatever. So, there are 10 billion electronic devices currently in Europe—out of which 95% are not yet connected to the Internet. I didn’t count what this means. I am not talking about just technichal, but also political, legal, administrative, operational, and other implications that come along this opening accessing of data. In the centre of this idea for a smarter city is, I call it, ‘the city data cloud’, which brings together the open data, commercial data, and your private data, which hopefully sticks to your smart-phone—and is secured and everything. There we do want to have a central place, central place for finding, but storing in a distributive, federative manner the things across different levels; so they are to be registry services, stores, portals, and visualisation support, which we do, for example, for different European countries, where we do have a platform behind the scenes, and which we put forward also as open source, because open data and open source need to go hand-in-hand. Once we do have the data, for example, in Berlin, where we launched the first German open data portal last year; we did it this time for Germany and are going to present the portal at CEBIT next year. It is about using the data. I mean opening the data sounds maybe a little boring, but it is fun, I tell you. But at the end, for every one of us, there are great possibilities to use the data, for example, to adjust the green zone in a city to the current environmental and traffic situation, or to visit the train progress in a city. If we could switch on this train monitor; that is one of the data journalists in Germany, Lorenz Matzat, which allows to see all the trains. The red ones are the ones that are delayed, and you can finger at the trains and see what is going on. We developed solutions to fix the city for the emergency forces. There are data lenses to get into more details of this huge amount of data, and of course, there are numerous more ideas—maybe we could come up with application competitions, as we did in Berlin, Germany and Europe. That allows me to say: thank you. If I got your interest, maybe you join us for a scientific conference on the topic in a month. It would be nice.