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Being involved in the world of smart cities – and just being an enthusiast for interesting stories and all things tech – one of the most exciting recent developments has been Toyota’s “Woven City”.

For those unfamiliar with the project, Woven City is a “fully connected ecosystem powered by hydrogen fuel cells to be built at the base of Mt. Fuji in Japan.”

In essence it’s a smart city built entirely from the ground up. This “living laboratory” will be populated by full time residents and researchers who will test and develop technologies including; autonomy, robotics, personal mobility and smart homes, in a real-world environment.

But what lessons, if any, can existing urban areas learn from a smart city environment designed entirely from scratch?

Futuristic living

To design the Woven City, Toyota commissioned Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, whose team have undertaken many high-profile projects, including Lego House in Denmark and Google’s London HQ.

Undoubtedly, the environment looks impressive. And some thought-provoking technology is set to be displayed within the city.

On the surface, day-to-day life will seem similar; green spaces, public parks, roads, cars and pedestrian areas. But there are some key differences that transform these familiar daily activities into something entirely more futuristic.

Perhaps most notably, all the cars will be completely autonomous and emissions free. Additionally, Toyota plans to unleash its ‘e-Palettes’ on the roads – described as “fully-automated, next generation battery electric vehicles designed to be scalable and customisable for a range of mobility as a service businesses.”

The e-Palettes will be on display at the 2020 Olympics, used to transfer athletes around the Olympic village, which shows there’s demand for these technologies outside the carefully controlled environment of Toyota’s project.

But while Woven City is clearly an engaging experiment in the potential unfettered possibilities of smart cities, clearly not all urban environments can be re-designed from scratch.

Solutions that work effectively with existing, legacy infrastructure will be essential to unlocking the full potential of connected urban environments.

Existing infrastructure

At Fotech, we produce Distributed Acoustic Sensing technology (DAS). And the key thing about DAS is that it can be installed on the fibre optic cabling that’s already omnipresent in our urban environments.

To build and install separate remote sensing technology – let alone create an entire new smart city from the ground-up on the scale required – would necessitate a huge amount of planning, construction, development and capital expenditure.

But with technology such as DAS, which co-exists with infrastructure that’s already in place in cities, all of that expense can be greatly reduced.

Projects such as Toyota’s Woven City are great at piquing public interest in smart cities, and I’ll follow its development closely. However, it’s equally important that we don’t lose sight of what is truly needed to transform our urban areas into the fully connected cities of the future.

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