Smart City innovators

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In the second of a series of three articles, Rebecca De Cicco details the importance of supporting innovative companies in developing technologies for smart cities

New technologies are increasingly dominating and changing how we live. Our love for technology has seen companies like Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook become the largest on the planet. Behemoths like Alphabet (Google’s parent company) are looking to Smart City technologies with, for example, its Sidewalk Labs venture that aims to improve urban life. But while these giants are servicing many of our desires, it’s the smaller tech companies that are developing the tools to create and drive the Smart City.

With so many developments and ideas on the radar like sensor technologies and autonomous electric vehicles, it is the SMEs that have the ability to bring these ideas to market. The challenge, however, lies in supporting their businesses financially and testing the concepts.

Programmes such as Innovate UK and the Future Cities Catapult are there to support these innovative companies to create the solutions to our urban challenges. By providing support through demonstrator programmes, grant funding competitions, network-building activities, strategy, and Future Cities Missions, SMEs can seize improved access to knowledge and markets not just in the UK, but globally.

Collaboration is a crucial part of the aim to grow UK companies and by providing them with the environments to test prototypes in real urban settings along with the networks of leading academics, designers and architects, SMEs in the UK could prove to develop the foundations for our Smart Cities across the world. Collaboration should also include local authorities; after all, this is where the monitoring of a city’s infrastructure, services and environment could have an immediate impact on citizens. Take, for instance, the development of applications for smart metering for parking and utility management which all need the willingness of the authority for successful implementation.

Smart City technology companies

The use of BIM within infrastructure has a significant bearing on Smart Cities, and as I mentioned in my previous article, when BIM is utilised fully, ‘smart’ information could be translated to an asset owner or city and reused downstream. Ensuring these systems are connected to other Smart City applications will offer the data required for future infrastructure, planning and maintenance.

As a small technology-based SME our focus is not only on BIM and its technologies for the built environment, rather offering insight to government and institutional bodies on what the future of a city landscape will be to develop policies and principles around it. We focus on helping these policymakers understand that our current working methods just won’t cut it in the future and the time to start planning is now before we run the risk of running behind.

About the author

Rebecca De Cicco is the director and founder of Digital Node, a BIM-based consultancy working with clients all over the world to educate, manage and support the implementation of a clearly defined process, underpinned by technology.


Cities across the world are currently being supported by subject matter experts in this field to help their strategies and make recommendations toward the services we’ll need to procure, test and review prior to implementing policy.

Digital Node was one of several SMEs that travelled to Melbourne for the Future Cities Mission to Australia. We were fortunate to be exposed to many companies that are selling services to the market in Australia, and all of whom are leading the future city challenge in London and globally. Here is a selection.

Westfield Technology Group has developed and manufactured a fully autonomous POD that can run on private roads/ cycle paths. It also produces the GTM vehicle (M1 vehicle), and (in conjunction with Johnstons Sweepers) makes an autonomous road sweeper that can detect foreign objects. The company also enables platooning of vehicles (a virtual train) to reduce congestion and supports trials, deployment and safety-case work with their team.

Looking to ‘smart’ parking, the app from JustPark aims to make parking easier by enabling over 1.5 million drivers to find parking in seconds – with real-time and predictive information on availability, restrictions and price. Drivers reserve and pay for a guaranteed space via the company’s apps helping property owners to manage their parking assets more effectively – from office car parks to on-street bays, multi-storeys to private driveways.

Grid Smarter Cities has an ecosystem of solutions to connect communities and people with transport, parking, goods and services. The company is involved in telematics, disability access, virtual kerbside management, skip distribution and waste management solutions. In its own words, Grid envisages the city of the near future as “digital, connected and convenient”, aiming to revolutionise urban mobility while reducing pollution.

The technologies supporting the smart city agenda will continue to evolve. We will see an explosion in the coming years of a multitude of start-ups, which will shape how we use, grow and navigate our cities. Future generations will not accept analogue, and manual ways of interacting with services and objects and the way in which this will evolve will not only be inclusive of the more forward-thinking cities, but commonplace in the majority of our developed cities around the world.

The small, agile SME will take its place as an authority. These small companies, fuelled by innovative and generally Generation X employees, will govern and drive the industry to challenge itself, while the technologies that support these challenges will evolve further than our minds can imagine.

Click here to read the first article in this series, ‘Supporting the smart city agenda’, in which Rebecca looks at what the UK is achieving in this burgeoning sector and how BIM will need to play its part.



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