Monday, 22 September 2008

Keynote at Ubicomp 2008, Dr. Shim Yoon

The opening keynote at Ubicomp 2008 was presented by Dr. Shim Yoon (Vice President Samsung SDS) on Realizing Ubiquitous Cities. She stated out with a few  scenarios of life in the future. Information is embedded into the environment - just in place and just in time - just what you need. Environments become pleasant and technologies look nice, so you can mistake a power distribution box for a sculpture. Cities will be really save as monitoring will be ubiquitous and continuous. Much of the vision is convincing and convenient (given that you have given up on privacy, too). 
There has been an interesting slide in the scenarios that  made me smile (in short "22:47, pick up the book reserved in advance for lending after taking a walk"). It basically says we will still have pretty long days and books will be around, too. 
I think in the age of ebooks I will not pick up books late in the evening. Looking at the analogies of previous technical revolutions one can argue that these reduced the number of hours people had to work to have a good life - it seems this technical revolution creates the opposite (u-work everywhere and anytime ;-) - is fine with me because I like my work :-)She described how technologies changes the urban culture, e.g. provision of water, later roads and harbors, and very recent fiber optics and mobile communications. In her view ubiquitous technologies will add a further paradigm shift. 

The overall concept of u-city can be condensed to her statement:  "u-city can solve complicated urban problems" and this is attempted by combining political, physical and techno solutions. It is envisioned having IT included in all city elements. The approach follows a layered design with a base layer of the communication infrastructure (e.g. fixed and wireless infrastructure). In the middle there are the u-facility arrangements (e.g. sensor network, CCTV, power distribution), and on top u-services (u-home, u-office, u-traffic, …) are provided. 

It is envisioned that u-services are partly free (provided by the government) and partly
 commercial. Some of the examples for services see straight forward and very close (e.g. u-urban facility management that allows to monitor, check, maintain the infrastructure) and some are somehow scary (e.g. u-safety and security allows complete monitoring over the while city, ranging from fire recognition to behavioral analysis of its inhabitants). She pointed out that u-service modeling needs to include technical aspects as well as a business analysis.

The importance Korea sees in this topic is amazing and is summarized by the following quote "U-city is a key aspect in the next generation industry and economy in Korea". The Korean government is behind the developments and urban planning embraces the concept and puts it at the center of the planning. Looking at the u-urban information concept it becomes apparent that this concept is valuable along the entire lifecycle, including planning, simulation, management and operation. One catch is that it has to be integrated while building, otherwise it will be expensive and it is not possible to gain the full potential. This is the bad message for most developed countries as we usually change our cities and do not build them from scratch…

Explaining more on the realization of u-city she argued that a new process is required and that construction and IT processes have  to go together. During city planning a u-city consulting process is performed (creating an IT master plan for the new city including the envisioning of the services). In the building process the IT-infrastructure is included (when it is easiest to realize). Running and managing the city includes operating U-city (basically running the IT services by a specific UbiCenter - a control center for the city).

In the final part of her keynote she talked a little about the Samsung U-City strategy. Here she saw a necessity to merge the city construction with the provision of IT capabilities. This ranges from  developing convergence Services (e.g. ubiquitous communication service, city control an & security services) to the creation of comprehensive services for complex housing environments. An example of a infrastructure device she mentioned is a complex lighting pole (which could include information display, LED lighting, CCTV camera, wireless access points, etc.). In summary the strategy is the development (and potentially the export) of world class u-city technologies. 

In the question session I raised the issue if this may lead to even more people moving from the rural areas to cities because of the new qualities such u-cities will provide. And it seems there will be even a greater difference between rural areas and cities in the future and this may strengthen the trend towards mega-cities. Perhaps we should think a bit more about u-rural…

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