A new initiative dubbed HyperCatCity aims to get IT firms working with cities and other public sector bodies to start making better use of technology and data to address many of the challenges faced by large urban areas.
HyperCatCity, which is being promoted by Innovate UK, the government's agency for pushing technology innovation, will see multiple UK cities collaborating with each other and private sector firms to open up and exploit data sources.
The ultimate aim is that access to the data will lead to better and more effective ways to deliver services.
A key part of the initiative is the HyperCat standard for exposing information, unveiled last year as a tool for enabling the Internet of Things, by allowing applications to interrogate devices and discover the data and capabilities they contain.
The underlying driver is the need for cities to find smarter ways of using and allocating resources, as urban populations expand but public sector budgets come under tighter constraints.
"According to the UN, by 2025 we will have built on a new area the size of Australia," said Dan Byles MP, founding chairman of the All-party Parliamentary Group on Smart Cities, speaking at the launch event for HyperCatCity in the Houses of Parliament.
Smart technologies are a key part of the solution towards sustainably meeting the challenges of rapid urbanisation, he said, and the UK is well placed to take the lead in this sector.
"We need to develop our own smart cities and our own smart infrastructure, as well as support and grow the capabilities within the UK smart city sector and supply chain, and promote UK companies globally," Byles added.
Cities initially involved in HyperCatCity include London, which is making the London Datastore accessible via HyperCat, Bristol and Milton Keynes, which has signed up BT as its technology partner as part of the initiative.
The potential applications discussed by representatives of the three cities include smart parking driven by data on available parking spaces, putting sensors in recycling skips so that the council knows when they are full, and tracking vehicle movement to enable better traffic management.
"If you know where everything is and what its status is, you can eliminate queuing because you can anticipate where things need to be and you can move them before the need arises," said Nick Appleyard, head of digital for Innovate UK.
"You can eliminate repair because you can see when things are going off beam and schedule preventative maintenance."
The government clearly sees this as a major opportunity for the UK to get a head start with smart cities, and believes that it will pay dividends in the future.
"Whichever country gets its act together round this first is the one that is going to have the export market, so if we can get this going in UK cities first, everyone around the world will adopt those solutions and the suppliers of those cities will be able to export around the world," said Appleyard.
However, this depends on there being no alternatives available. Appleyard gave his opinion that there is no rival standard for HyperCat, but a key hurdle will be getting traction in the US, which has historically tended to dismiss technologies developed outside its own borders and promote home grown standards instead.
Jay Hedley, managing director for smart buildings and energy solutions at Accenture in the US, told V3 that he had never had any conversations about HyperCat with businesses in the US, so the initiative could face an uphill struggle outside the UK.
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