COVID-19 opens our eyes to Smart-City potential

COVID-19 opens our eyes to Smart-City potential

On March 24th David Soldani, Chief Technology Officer at Huawei Australia, delivered an online presentation to the 12th International Smart City Expo in Sydney.

At times such as this COVID-19 pandemic there is so much going on that it is hard to put it all into perspective and understand what it all means, I am sure there are many of us feeling like that right now.

As one famous political figure once said: “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.”

This quote is hugely relevant in the context of making massive technological change happen in our societies, let me explain why.

Those of us in the technology industry know better than anyone how hard it is to make change happen through technology, we can talk and talk and talk but unless we can persuade policy makers to listen then we will struggle to achieve what we need to on a truly national scale.

Those of us here who have been arguing for years about the need for Smart Cities will understand that very well indeed, for years we have been talking to our political leaders of all persuasions about the need for Smart Cities and for years we have seen very little concrete progress.

Politicians have generally listened politely and occasionally thrown some money at some small-scale Smart City trials – which ends up generating some media interest but then nothing substantial materializes -but policy makers soon move onto other issues which resonate more loudly with the public.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has done what decades of lobbying could have never achieved, it has absolutely shown our political classes and our general public the power of technology in coping with this crisis.

Can anyone imagine how much worse we would be able to handle this pandemic if we didn’t have the Internet to keep us informed? How much worse off would we be if our only means of communication were a dial-up telephone stuck on the kitchen wall?

So, albeit in extremely regrettable circumstances, we now have the opportunity to demonstrate that the kind of technology used in a state-of-the-art Smart City would actually bring tremendous benefits in a future situation similar to that we are experiencing now.

You don’t just need to take my word for this, just look at the role technology could potentially play in helping to stem the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

For example, rather than putting the health of their staff at risk it is actually possible for hospitals to use an intelligent robot that collects throat swabs for COVID-19 tests to protect medical staff from viral infection – just think how many lives that could save.

Moreover, using AI-Assisted diagnosis for COVID-19in hospitals could also output computed tomography (CT) quantification results in just a few seconds – compare that to the waits of several days that people have had to endure with regular testing.

In the same vein, it’s also possible to use AI technology to take the body temperatures of citizens to detect possible COVID-19 carriers and cross-department data platforms could be used for monitoring personnel in-flow to manage epidemic prevention.

Perhaps, the best proof point of how Smart City technology could be helping comes as we reflect that right now our authorities are desperately trying to track down those in our community that are carrying the COVID-19 virus so that they can be properly isolated – but it’s an incredibly tough task.

We have the technology available for authorities to use facial recognition technology to not only quickly track down the infected individuals but then enable police officers on the ground to use Augmented Reality technology to successfully detect the infected individual even in a crowded location such as a train station.

Of course the key to developing these kinds of Smart City applications is having the underlying network and technology platforms available – with the most important of these being 5G coverage and that is still in the relatively early stages of deployment in Australia.

In time of course there will be greater 5G coverage here in Australia than we have right now and our own medical facilities will be able to deploy some of these technologies – but they do need more than just 5G access or even just access to ultra-fast fixed-broadband.

They will also need our political leaders, once this current crisis has been dealt with, to focus like a laser-beam on helping to knit-together our homes, schools, hospitals, universities, government services and so much more into more than just a Smart City – we should be aiming to use this horrible pandemic to bring about the Smart Society.

Please click here to access David’s full presentation

David Soldani is Chief Technology Officer at Huawei Australia.

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