In a world increasingly connected by smart tech, from devices to appliances to transport, it seems inevitable that in time the technology will be expanded to create smart cities which use connectivity and tech to make life easier, more efficient, and inclusive.
Obviously, transport systems and mobility access are key to any smart city project which is where IA and machine learning will be utilised to analyse data – for example to create intelligent traffic signals that will optimise traffic flow both reducing emissions and journey time. Clearly benefiting the environment and the individual.
As the point of a smart city is to improve the lives of the people who live there however, the technology itself is only as useful as the way people can participate in its use – including those with mobility challenges or disability. It has been suggested that around 70% of the world’s population will live in an urban environment by 2050, and of that 70% around 15% will have some form a of disability. That is projected to be around 940 million people who will need access to transport including over- and underground train systems, driving and ride-sharing, taxis, cycling and pedestrian routes.
Currently it is thought that around 30% of those with disabilities rarely leave home.
Clearly then, the challenge is for smart cities of the future to include barrier-free access to its infrastructure making it accessible for everyone. Of course, smart cities will not be built in isolation so much as evolve. This will, in turn, require forward thinking to make accessibility and inclusivity a forgone conclusion in planning for all urban transport options rather than an add-on.
In 2020, Google Maps included a feature showing wheelchair-friendly routes and users were able to add accessibility information to the app itself. Operational autonomous vehicles though still in development, are markedly progressing and are an ideal means for more inclusive mobility.
Collaboration between government, research, and business, together with inclusive planning, should be an integral part of policy development for the digital and connected infrastructure changes necessary to make cities smart, while putting people first.
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