Moscow: the Smart City that’s about to get (a lot) Smarter…

World famous for stunning architecture such as St. Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin, Moscow is fast building a similar impressive reputation for its digital infrastructure, and has recently been recognised as one of the Top 10 global smart cities by leading consultancies, including both KpMG and PwC. But the Russian capital’s pioneering council isn’t content to sit back and rest on its laurels. Plans are already being made to capitalise on the city’s digital assets, which include an impressive 99% 4G reach, 82.5% household fixed broadband access, about 70% smartphone usage and a 15.5km² city centre free WiFi zone – some of the world’s best statistics for connectivity.

 

Spending a few short days in Moscow is enough to see the impact technology plays in everyday life. Charging stations are available at train stations and bus stops, fares can be paid with digital wallets like ApplePay, and interactive digital maps show residents where their public transport is, and when it’s likely to arrive. It’s not just public transport benefitting from the internet of everything – government and public utility vehicles (ranging from snow ploughs to mobile street-cleaners) are also connected to a centralised system, monitoring and improving their operations. With positioning, speed, and fuel count all tracked, municipal transport can use optimised routes and minimise energy consumption – handy during cold Russian winters. The city is also ahead of the curve on many technological trends – not least of which, bitcoin, which can be deposited in over 100 one-way cryptocurrency ATMs across the city. Imagine the raised eyebrows when that development was first announced – but as recent headlines about Bitcoin’s sharply increasing share prices illustrate, the decision has since been vindicated.

A Short Transition To A Better Democracy

Moscow’s journey to Smart City status has not even been a particularly long one, by global standards. A forceful drive towards connectivity and IoT implementation was led by the digitally-focused mayor, Sergey Sobranin, elected in 2011. Since then, the city has invested $600m a year to make sweeping technological change a reality. One of the most impressive innovations that quickly followed Sobranin’s election has been the introduction of powerful citizen engagement platforms. A single online portal features 3 key services which residents can use as a direct line to their government.

‘Our City’ is an online platform to receive, respond to, and ultimately address complaints about city services – for example, if refuse collectors seem to have missed an area lately, concerned citizens can report the incident and get it addressed. ‘Active Citizen’ allows Muscovites to vote on city development issues, ranging from proposed speed limits and public transport routes all the way to possible developments such as new parks. And ‘Crowd’ allows citizens to propose ideas directly to their council – an extremely popular concept, with over 84,000 ideas proposed to date, of which 2,700 are in the pipeline for further study and development. It’s an impressive move towards direct democracy – a city governed by its citizens, aided by the power of connected technologies.

And the (arguably) more democratic data-driven system Moscow employs has already bore fruit. Around 2.1 million citizens e-voted for the implementation of ‘My Street’, investing $1.6bn of public funding into a major urban redevelopment project covering 87 sites. My Street has seen the major renovation of streets, squares, and embankments to improve energy efficiency and make public areas more pleasant, enjoyable and accessible for citizens. The voice of the people isn’t just limited to urban development, however – education is another key area on which the local council is seeking input from the people it was elected to serve. Parents are requested to identify new courses on the Moscow Online School platform, which has resulted in the promotion of modern, relevant topics such as cybersecurity, blogging – and even chess.

Now, authorities are looking at what other leading global cities are doing in their own journeys to become ‘smart’, with the goal of ensuring Moscow does not fall behind the curve. The so-called ‘Smart City Lab’, formed last year, was tasked with developing digital platforms for several municipal departments, taking hints from – and hoping to improve upon – other cities’ efforts. The biggest challenge in so doing, according to Eldar Tuzmukhametov, who spoke to Computer Weekly, is to bring the message of the key smart city benefits to the citizens themselves – to ‘explain how technology will improve people’s lives rather than make them more complicated.’

A Smarter Future For Moscow

What innovations could we see in the future from this pioneering and increasingly global city? The council have pinpointed artificial intelligence (AI) as a key growth area, particularly within the field of medicine. An AI-based system is given thousands of CT scans and X-rays of lungs – both healthy and with varying levels of new growth. Tuzmukhametov claims the system detects these growths with a probability of 80%. “When a doctor receives the test results for a patient, they may be tired or lacking sleep, and they may miss, for example, some new growth on the X-ray of a lung. In those cases, the AI system will draw attention to it.” And its diagnosing abilities don’t end there – signs of heart conditions such as arrhythmia can also be identified with the input of electrocardiograms.

Moscow is also making manoeuvres towards a ‘smart grid’ energy system, the likes of which cities such as Barcelona and Amsterdam have pioneered. The city’s power company plans in 2018 to roll out an IoT-based control system for common utilities, which will detect the usage of electricity, water, and heating in a building. The system is already being used with great success in government agency buildings, and is expected to be greenlit to be used in all residential properties in the city. A speech recognition system already allows Muscovites to use their voice to enter electricity meter readings – a mobile app will imminently be introduced, based on a chatbot, to answer users’ commonly posed questions about utility usage and billing.

While Muscovites can be proud to live in what is already a Top 10 global smart city, their council’s ambitions aren’t yet exhausted. More sophisticated sensors in vehicles, virtual and augmented reality, and expanded blockchain usage are all being discussed prominently – and given the rapid success in implementing smart technologies to date, it would be foolish to doubt that Moscow can pioneer in these relatively uncharted territories as well. What Moscow’s example makes abundantly clear is that cities can transform people’s ways of life and tackle modern challenges with relative ease, given the right investment and political will. Governments around the globe should take note.

IntechnologyWiFi’s connected digital infrastructure creates a secure and safe platform for consumers, businesses, and technologies to engage and interact with each other, allowing local councils to benefit from data-driven insights just like Moscow. If you’d like to find out more about how our Connected City Platform can enable modern cities to face the economic, social, and environmental challenges of the future, or simply want to understand more about the changes happening right now, please get in touch.

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Whether you’re a local authority looking to provide public WiFi or seeking a connectivity solution for Smart Cities, the IoT or 5G / Small Cells in your town or city, or if you are interested in partnering with us around the Connected City Platform in any of our forthcoming town and city roll-outs, we’d love to explain more about who we are and what we do.

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