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Smarter Cities

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

Guangzhou, China
Guangzhou, China
Emily Liedel
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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, smartcitizens.at, aims to create a platform for other initiatives, businesses, organizations and apps that are related to the everyday concerns of “Life,” “Resources,” and “Mobility,” Oekonews.at 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 Mondespeaking 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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Forced Labor, Forced Exile: The Cuban Professionals Sent Abroad To Work, Never To Return

Noel, a Cuban engineer who had to emigrate to the faraway island of Saint Lucia, tells about the Cuban government's systematic intimidation techniques and coercion of its professionals abroad. He now knows he can never go back to his native island — lest he should never be allowed to leave Cuba again.

Forced Labor, Forced Exile: The Cuban Professionals Sent Abroad To Work, Never To Return

Next stop, Saint Lucia

Laura Rique Valero

Daniela* was just one year old when she last played with her father. In a video her mother recorded, the two can be seen lying on the floor, making each other laugh.

Three years have passed since then. Daniela's sister, Dunia*, was born — but she has never met her father in person, only connecting through video calls. Indeed, between 2019 and 2023, the family changed more than the two little girls could understand.

"Dad, are you here yet? I'm crazy excited to talk to you."

"Dad, I want you to call today and I'm going to send you a kiss."

"Dad, I want you to come for a long time. I want you to call me; call me, dad."

Three voice messages which Daniela has left her father, one after the other, on WhatsApp this Saturday. His image appears on the phone screen, and the two both light up.

The girls can’t explain what their father looks like in real life: how tall or short or thin he is, how he smells or how his voice sounds — the real one, not what comes out of the speaker. Their version of their dad is limited to a rectangular, digital image. There is nothing else, only distance, and problems that their mother may never share with them.

In 2020, Noel*, the girls' father, was offered a two-to-three-year employment contract on a volcanic island in the Caribbean, some 2,000 kilometers from Cuba. The family needed the money. What came next was never in the plans.

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