Future

Smart Cities International: Hornet Traffic, Smart Deliveries, Tracking Trash

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La Paz's aerial cable cars
La Paz's aerial cable cars
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Hello City Folk!

Those of us who don’t own brick-and-mortar businesses often overlook an essential part of urban economic life: deliveries. Human beings move in any number of ways: on public transit, bicycles, cars, their own two feet. It’s no big deal for most shop customers to walk an extra 100 feet if there's not a parking spot in front of their destination. But getting hundreds of pounds of merchandise to their destinations can add precious time and expense for the people responsible for delivering it.

There are better ways to accomplish deliveries. This week, in addition to other smart city news, we’ll look at how two German companies are collaborating to make delivery vehicles smarter and greener.

— Emily Liedel
TRAFFIC HORNETS
Researchers at the University of Malaga are studying the movements of hornets and bird flocks — both of which navigate in large groups without slowing down or colliding with each other — in order to develop better traffic systems that will reduce congestion and accidents, Cadena SER reports (Spanish). The hornet-based system combines smart software that will optimize streetlights as well as a mobile app that gives drivers a personalized route to get them to their destination as quickly as possible, taking current traffic conditions into account. The project’s director says the system will reduce traffic jams and the cut the average trip down by 15%, all without requiring major modifications to the city itself. The system should be ready for implementation by the end of the year. In addition to Malaga, the city of Prague has already signed a contract to implement the hornet-inspired traffic control.
VERBATIM
“We need to be more sensitive to the way that communities want to live together. Favelas and other slums are often seen as motors of economic growth, as they are in Nairobi or Mumbai. It is a matter of showing respect to people and recognizing that self-organization can have very positive results,” Sir David King, the British Special Representative for Climate Change and head of Future Cities Catapult, said in an interview with the BBC Brazil (Portuguese). King argues that slums and medieval cities have a lot to teach modern designers, because they are designed from the bottom up, not top-down, and residents can walk everywhere.
SMART GARBAGE BINS, HIGHER PROFITS
The winners of the most recent “Smart City Hackathon” in Kazan, Russia, already have a marketable idea that is attracting attention from municipal authorities in Russia and beyond. The team’s smart garbage bins and GPS system allows garbage collectors to track which bins are full, and gives dispatchers the ability to send trucks out only to the bins that need to be collected, Kazan First reports (Russian). The system can also tell which bins tend to fill up — or overflow — allowing the city to add more bins as necessary. The smart bins would both keep the city cleaner and would make garbage collection more efficient and profitable for the companies who collect the trash.
SMART WATER
Already considered a model of Smart City technology in Europe, Santander, Spain is expanding its “Smart Water” pilot project. The expanding system is made up of network of intelligent sensors that monitor the purification system, water pressure and water quality, El Diario Montañés reports. Users can access all of that information in real time, as well as visualize their own water consumption. Santander is hoping that the Smart Water expansion will both encourage more residents to reduce their water consumption and give the city more data about how water is used according to different types of buildings.


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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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