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Before Cities got Smart.


Launch Flash Version The Lights are on

Before smart buildings, offices were the planet’s largest energy consumers and greenhouse gas emitters. Lights were left burning through the night, sprinklers watered lawns during showers, and air conditioners kept empty rooms at a comfy 20 degrees. When smart sensors finally appeared, energy consumption and emissions literally dropped by 30%.

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The Traffic Jam

Prior to the dawn of smart roads, scenes like this were ubiquitous across the civilised world. In “traffic jams”, drivers sat alone in stationary or slow-moving vehicles. They sent endless streams of calls and messages from hand-held devices, and every year burnt 2.3 billion gallons of fuel going precisely nowhere. The loss of productivity remains inestimable to this day.

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The Scream

Streets literally quieted down with the advent of smart public safety systems. Before, citizens would use a ‘high-pitched voice’ to alert police to purse-snatchers, armed robbers or car thieves. But as police armed themselves with analytics and computational modelling, they could predict where crimes would most likely happen and take criminals off the street faster.

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The Paper File

Before the advent of electronic records, patient information gathered more dust than insights. Data was scribbled onto “paper files” and locked away in cabinets. Acute cases of déjà vu were often experienced, as the same tests were repeated at different hospitals, and patients had to keep explaining their medical history to new doctors. Some even got sicker instead of better as doctors’ incurably bad handwriting inevitably led to errors.

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The Forgery

Before smart education systems, homemade notes like “the dog ate Sid’s algebra homework” and “Susan’s essay was so good, we kept it!” would be quietly penned in the back of school buses. With parents unable to follow their childrens’ progress online, 30% of them failed to graduate each year and the U.S. fell to 25th in math and 24th in science according to global school rankings.

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With over half the electrical power generated never reaching a single device, this video metaphorically illustrates how humanity dreamt of a day when the flow of electricity could be mastered. But as sensors, meters and chips were eventully built into everything from washing machines to power lines, people finally had the power to reduce energy costs, emissions and shameless waste.


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Before railways became smart, “overcrowding” was common on trains. Travelling in more cramped conditions than allowed for chickens, passengers’ personal space was truly invaded as they experienced uncomfortable levels of intimacy with their fellow passengers. Now, thanks to digital sensors, stations can finally anticipate congestion and automatically send more trains.

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The Sandbag

Before smart flood management systems could predict and hold back incoming torrents, residents from The Netherlands’ low-lying coastal areas had to use manually-filled sandbags and crossed fingers to keep water out. Knowing that 55% of the country lies below sea level and 65% of its GDP is produced in high-risk areas, smart dams brought floods of joyful tears.

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The Queue

Before the advent of smart information systems, people actually had to turn up in person to be seen by health centres, passport offices, post offices, embassies, the DVLA and the DMV. Long lines, known as ‘queues’ quickly formed as people stood around aimlessly for hours. Finally in the early 21st century, electronic declarations cut queues and billions of euros in administration costs.

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Anonymous eggs

Prior to the advent of smart food distribution, people didn’t know where their food came from. Eggs, chicken, beef, tomatoes, fish or even the ingredients used in a jar of peanut butter, were totally untraceable. And so was the source of e.coli, listeria and salmonella that caused 76 million cases of food poisoning every year.

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The Power Station

Before smart utility grids, people just didn’t know how much electricity they used. Billions of watts were wasted as standby lights on TVs, stereos and DVD players blazed non-stop day and night. And with grids losing enough power every year to power India, Germany and Canada, the only way to meet demand was to generate more. Smart meters finally let people see their energy use in real time, reducing demands, emissions and, ultimately, power stations.

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