The world is in the midst of an immense population shift from rural to urban areas, which has led governments, businesses and community to rely on technologies, and in particular the Information and Communication Technology (ICT), to overcome the challenges posed by rapid urbanization. As a result, various academic, industrial but also city-led ICT initiatives have been launched in the recent years in order to build “smart urban infrastructures”, where detailed information about the functioning of the city becomes available to both city dwellers and businesses, thereby enabling better understanding and consequently management of the city’s infrastructure and resources.
An ICT Lab on Smarter Cities Emphasizing Social Sustainability
From the more technical, ICT perspective, smart cities are fascinating systems of systems whose component systems and their integration greatly challenge current ICT due to the key characteristics of connected cities and especially their scale. Moreover, the vision of what smart cities should be about is evolving at a fast pace in close concert with the latest technology trends. It is notably worth highlighting how mobile and social Internet use have reignited citizen engagement, thereby opening new perspectives for smart cities beyond data analytics that have been initially one of the core foci for smart cities technologies. Similarly, open data programs foster the engagement of citizens in the process of government and overall contribute to make our cities more sustainable.
However, while environmental and economical sustainability have been on the ICT research agenda for some time, there is another, equally important, form of sustainability that has so far been overlooked for smart cities, that is, social sustainability. Indeed, cities are first and foremost places for people, and thus building cohesive, inclusive and flourishing communities should be at the forefront of our research agenda. Without the right social infrastructure in place, problems of isolation, mental health, anti-social behaviors and crime are more likely to arise, spiraling communities into decline.
In the above context, the Inria Project Lab CityLab@Inria will study ICT solutions toward smart cities that promote both social and environmental sustainability. A strong emphasis of the Lab is on the undertaking of a multi-disciplinary research program through the integration of relevant scientific and technology studies, from sensing up to analytics and advanced applications, so as to actually enact the foreseen smart city Systems of Systems. Obviously, running experiments is a central concern of the Lab, so that we are able to confront proposed approaches to actual settings.
CityLab@Inria specifically brings together Inria project-teams in the areas of networking (FUN and URBANET), distributed software systems (ARLES-MiMove and MYRIADS), data management (DICE, OAK and SMIS), and data analytics (CLIME and WILLOW).
Research Themes & Challenges
According to the above, the objective of CityLab@Inria is the study of ICT-based smart city systems from supporting “sensing” systems up to advanced data analytics and new services for the citizens that promote social and environmental sustainability. Toward that goal, the Lab investigates the following research questions :
• How to effectively sustain urban-scale sensing that needs to combine both physical and social sensing while accounting for the requirements associated with the target network that include : scalability, energy-efficiency and privacy preservation ? The sensing of the city pulse also challenges the supporting data management, which must scale-up as well as integrate highly heterogeneous data of various qualities. The literature is rich with papers addressing these concerns individually. However, these are seldom tackled together, especially while simultaneously considering the urban scale. Our approach to overcome these challenges lies in the study of scalable protocols from the networking up to the middleware layers, together with advanced techniques for privacy enhancement and semantic-aware data management.
• How to aggregate the data so as to understand but also anticipate and even influence the evolution of the city ? Data analytics is at the core of smart cities so that the “big data” that is made available to us by way of sensing but also based on the open data trend can indeed become useful knowledge about the cities. Data analytics for smart cities is a very active area of research. However, numerous open problems remain among which large-scale data analysis and overcoming the uncertainty associated with urban-scale, crowd-sourced data collection. Our contribution in this area leverages advanced research results on data assimilation and machine learning.
• While city-scale sensing and data analytics are two complementary aspects of smart city systems, they are also inter-related as one may adequately inform the design of the other. It is then essential to design crosscutting architectures for smart city systems based on the comprehensive integration of the custom data sensing and analytics that we will investigate.
• Last but not least, the smart city vision will come true only if it comes along with concrete urban services that do make our (future) cities sustainable and agile. A number of application areas have been put forth for a while, and include : smart energy, smart health, smart transportation, etc. However, we are still lacking disruptive services that will indeed contribute to making our cities better places to live while addressing the central challenge of growth. One important question is how to impact upon city governance using city-scale sensing, and especially its social dimension ? Our research will be guided by the study of new urban services, which will be undertaken in close collaboration with external partners and especially city representatives as well as researchers from the social science field.
While the scientific focus of CityLab@Inria is broad, the Lab’s research leverages relevant effort within Inria project-teams that is further revisited as well as integrated to meet the challenges of smart cities. In addition, CityLab@Inria research builds upon collaborative effort at the International level, and especially collaboration in the context of the Inria@SiliconValley program.
An International Lab
A key characteristic of the CityLab@Inria Lab is its international dimension, which originated with the Paris-San Francisco cooperation agreement toward smarter cities. This agreement, signed on March 20, 2013, is dedicated to developing smarter cities and includes support for targeted research programs among which is the Joint Inria-CITRIS CityLabs Program.
More specifically, researchers from Inria and CITRIS (Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society, University of California) have had an ongoing relationship for collaborative research projects since 2010, in close relation with the Inria@SiliconValley program. In 2013, Inria and CITRIS signed an agreement regarding the CityLabs partnership in which they aim to undertake cutting-edge research in the domain of “smart cities” with a focus on gathering, analyzing, and visualizing complex urban data.
In particular, the CITRIS initiative on “Data and Democracy” is directly related to the CityLab@Inria goal of promoting social sustainability. This is for instance illustrated by the connection established between CityLab@Inria and the CITRIS Social Apps Lab, and especially ongoing collaboration toward the development of the AppCivist platform for large-scale public deliberation and civic action.
Similarly, strong relations have been established with the newly created Smart City Center at UC Berkeley, which is led by Prof. Pozdnukhov. Beyond the “Data and Democracy” initiative, other CITRIS initiatives are of direct relevance to the theme of “Environmental sustainability”, especially through the development of advanced sensors. In addition to the above, Californian cities are strongly engaged in the open data and smart city trends, thereby opening up venues for experimenting with the technologies emerging from CityLab@Inria’s research at the city scale.
Last but not least, the strong focus of CITRIS and Inria on Innovation together with the open innovation trend are expected to favor the creation of innovation out of the undertaken research in smart cities. This is further supported by the accord that was signed in February 2014, between Inria, CITRIS and PRIME.