A "smart" city

Santander, in the north of Spain, is looking to the future and is styling itself as a "Smartcity". Some 12,000 sensors are installed on facades, lamp posts, underground, on the buses, and in containers. They measure levels of pollution, noise, humidity, light and traffic. The data they collect is sent to a central platform which automatically regulates street lighting, rubbish collections, and parking: people can use their Smartphones to keep up with what's happening.

Jose Antonio Gallache is a telecoms engineer at the University of Cantabrie. He said, "Here, we have underground parking sensors which detect the presence of a vehicle and send the information to other sensors. It's a difficult area for parking, so the idea is to make it easier for people by helping find free parking places." The central platform, the nerve centre of the system, is in the lab at the University of Santander. The engineers there are developing ever more powerful sensors, and a participation app. Using a Smartphone, people can report an accident in the town, a broken pavement, a leaking drainpipe, a badly-parked car. The information is transmitted to the municipal authorities who can solve the problem as fast as possible. Reports are also sent to the local newspaper. They might get a report about people driving too fast in front of the local school and decide to report on it. Editor Jose Miguel Santamaria-Alday said, "Our role is to be a communication channel between people and the town hall and this app gives us a new source of information. And making people's complaints public forces politicians to react faster." A more interactive relationship between people and the administration services is what interests the Mayor of Santander, Inigo de la Serna, who defines himself as a "geek", a computer freak who is always connected and keen to use new apps in the city. He said, "So here you can see all the different shops in the city. And see, here's the bus stop. And here, at this stop you can tell exactly what time all the buses from town are going to arrive." The Smart Santander project is partly financed by the EU which wants to make Santander an experimental city. Other cities can learn from the project and install similar systems. For the town hall, it's an economic opportunity, an antidote to the crisis. The mayor said, "Today in Spain, we have very high unemployment but here we have companies specialising in new technology, which are growing fast. And we can develop that here because there is a flourishing market with an international outlook. And that leads to creating jobs." Using Santander as a model, other 'Smart Cities' are blooming all over the world and already they represent a market worth several million euros.

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