Smarter Cities

Smart Cities International: Newcastle Lights, Nairobi Maps, California Recycled H2O

Guangzhou, China
Guangzhou, China
Emily Liedel






April 16, 2015

Driverless cars seem to be ready to hit the road, but are our cities' roads ready for them? The kind of system that works well for managing the ways humans interact — whether they are inside of vehicles, on foot or on a bicycle — might not work as well when the vehicles are no longer controlled by humans.

In addition to other smart city news, this week we’re looking at how the British city of Newcastle is preparing for driverless cars. We’ll also check in with a new Kenyan mapping project that allows bus passengers to navigate the system better.

— Emily Liedel


A city can only be so smart without smart citizens — at least according to a new initiative in Vienna called “Smart Citizens Lab.” The project’s website,, aims to create a platform for other initiatives, businesses, organizations and apps that are related to the everyday concerns of “Life,” “Resources,” and “Mobility,” reports (German). The website helps citizens answer questions like “how can I save energy without spending more money?” or “How can I reduce my ecological footprint?”


“A smart city is a city with ultra-connected citizens, who can also, if they are asked to, share their opinions and participate in this grand transformation,” Vincent Giret, a journalist with Le Monde speaking on France Info radio said about the role of smart cities in strengthening civic action and mitigating global warming.


Newcastle, England, has just installed 20 traffic lights with a sensor called Compass4D, which allows the lights to communicate with vehicles that have been equipped with a transmitter. When the vehicle approaches the light, it turns green. Right now, the city is trying out the technology in ambulances, but it could soon be used for taxis and freight trucks, The Telegraph reports. Does this mean you’ll be able to buy a "green light" switch soon? No, but the smart traffic lights are considered the first step towards driverless vehicles. In the future, cargo trucks might be outfitted with the traffic switch and allowed to drive themselves through a series of green lights through town.


Carlo Ratti, director of the MIT Senseable City Lab, will be talking at June's "Smart City Event in Amsterdam" about the positive effects that the collection of Big Data can have in promoting behavioral change. He offers this example: "In our Trash Track project in Seattle, we added tags to trash and then followed trash as it moves through the city’s sanitation system. We discovered many things … and one of the things we learned in the Trash Track project is that just sharing information can promote behavioral change. People involved in the project would be able to follow their trash and this prompted many of them to change their habits. One person told us, “I used to drink water in plastic bottles and throw them away and think that they would disappear but now I know it is not true anymore. They just go a few miles from home to a landfill. So I stopped drinking water in plastic bottles.”

Read more here: Smart City Event 2015, Amsterdam


A group of students and researchers in Jena, Germany have developed a simulator for an electric truck, which drivers are invited to test-drive — all without moving an inch, OstThüringer Zeitung reports (German). The "test" involves driving at as even a pace as possible, which is best for the battery, while also getting to the destination on time and delivering an ice-cream cake to the city center. Drivers have to keep an eye on the battery life, in addition to everything else on the road. Experts say battery life is the biggest challenge to overcome in bringing electric vehicles to the delivery world.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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