Major cities around the world like Amsterdam, Barcelona, Birmingham, Dubai, Helsinki, San Diego, Stockholm, Nanjing, Vienna, Yokohama, all share an aspiration to become smart cities. Urban planners agree on the basic principles that a city needs to follow in order to become “smart”, but still disagree on the best way to achieve this. Amid this uncertainty, the Spanish port city of Santander, a town of about 180,000 inhabitants, despite its cash-strapped finances, seems to have managed to successfully make the transition to smart city.
Luis Muñoz, an IT professor at the University of Cantabria, received nearly €9 million in research money, most of it from the EU, to develop a prototype smart city. Muñoz permanently installed 10,000 sensors around downtown Santander, throughout an area of 6 square kilometers. The sensors are hidden inside small gray boxes attached to street lamps, poles and building walls. Some are even buried beneath the asphalt of parking lots.
Day in and day out, these sensors measure more or less everything that can be measured: light, pressure, temperature, humidity, even the movements of cars and people. Every couple of minutes, they transmit their data to Muñoz’s laboratory at the university. There, a central computer compiles the data into one big picture that is constantly being updated. Santander is a digital city, and everything gets recorded. The system knows exactly where the traffic jams are and where the air is bad. Noise and ozone maps show what parts of the city are exceeding EU limits.
All these functions save time and money for the city authorities, but the component that makes Santander really smart is the residents’ ability to access this and other types of information effortlessly. Through a smart phone application called “Pulse of the City”, residents of Santander can connect to their city’s data streams. The application provides information and opportunity for interaction about virtually everything, including bus route information and arrival times, tourist information, shopping information, or reporting potholes on Santander’s streets.
Due to its success, Santander has become something of a living experimental laboratory, attracting curious visitors from major corporations such as Google, Microsoft, IBM, or major smart cities from China and Japan, who are eager to discover the secret of Santander’s success.
The original article can be found in the Spiegel web-site, here.
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