Dublin 8 to Become Next Testing Ground for Smart Tech

The council is rolling out another “smart district”, the fifth in the greater Dublin area with the aim of testing technologies to improve city services.

Smart D8 is due to launch in January 2021, says Órla Veale, a recently appointed project manager for Smart D8.

It’ll focus on improving the health and well-being of local residents, says Veale.

It’ll do that “by using technology applications to enable smart use of resources and improve services”, she said.

Teaming up for the Smart D8 project are Dublin City Council and its Smart City Unit, the Digital Hub Development Agency, along with companies working in health, research and business.

The National College of Art and Design and the hospitals in the area are also involved, said Green Party Councillor Donna Cooney.

Dublin 8 was picked, in part, because of its proximity to hospitals and healthcare providers and because of the ongoing development in the area, says Nicola Graham, the Dublin City Council smart city operations manager. It helped, too, that the Digital Hub is there.

“How can we all work together to make it a better place to be and to live?” says Graham.

The broad aspiration of Smart D8 is to work out how to use parks and hospitals in the area to promote well-being and daily health so people have less need to turn to doctors and hospitals, says Graham.

First, Asking

Smart D8 will encourage healthcare providers to work with each other, and with businesses, academics, artists and the council, to identify shared aims around health and well-being, says Graham.

Says Veale, the project manager: “The first step in the project will be to engage with the community to really understand their health and well-being needs which will be the foundation of Smart D8.”

They plan to do surveys online and by phone before the end of this year, says Veale.

Once the survey results are in, they’ll use those to develop a world-class “Smart Health and Community Well-Being” testbed, says Graham. Partners will be able to research and develop products, and test them out, locally, she said.

The Smart D8 team also plans to look at how “smart” technology may be used to help and support those living locally with short or long-term illnesses, and how apps may be used to improve local residents’ health and well-being.

Smart D8 is still in its early stages, says Veale. But “it is envisaged that advanced technologies like artificial intelligence and internet of things, together with more familiar technology such as mobile applications, social media and web-based content will play a role”.

Graham says they haven’t settled on projects yet. First, they need to identify key challenges, she says.

One potential partner Veale has mentioned is Akara Robotics, a digital healthcare company that develops social assistance robots for staff in retirement communities.

Another potential collaborator is MEG Support Tools, a company that provides a digital management system for frontline hospital workers.

Back to the Future

“It’s really interesting that we’re refocusing the city on public health,” says Andrew Karvonen, associate professor of Sustainable Urban Development at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.

He points to the transformative effects that sanitation infrastructure had on the city and public health in the eighteenth century.

“We’re returning to this with digitalisation. We’re saying, how can we make cities where people lead healthy active lifestyles?” says Karvonen. “So it’s kind of back to the future.”

In Kashiwanoha, a new town developed in the suburbs of Tokyo, the developer of the town, along with the government and local universities used smart technologies to make the place a more attractive place to live for new residents, says Karnoven.

Smart technologies were used to tempt mostly wealthier and retired people to the suburb on the promise of healthier living and more active lifestyles, making an elderly population less reliant on health services, says Karnoven.

Smart health technologies are diverse, says Karvonen, who authored a recent paper on Smart Cities and smart health technology.

It can mean Fitbit-style devices that monitor your steps, online consultations with doctors, robotic surgery, or digitising and centralising medical records.

Digitising medical records is a new way to manage publicly funded healthcare, says Karvonen. It means medical histories can be shared quickly between, say, a doctor and pharmacist, as well as potentially being more economical for healthcare providers.

“They want to reduce their costs,” he says.

“The downside is it’s very expensive to set up. Is it going to work for the patient? And there’s a very strong profit motive for companies,” says Karvonen.

Who gets access to that information and database, too? says Karvonen. “Do I want a private company knowing that I have a venereal disease? What about an insurance company? Should they know that kind of stuff?”

Karnoven says he welcomes the civic turn by smart cities towards applying digital technology to human health but there are questions to ask, especially when the technology is being tested in small areas.

“How is it going to upscale? How are you going to expand it?” says Karnoven. If a particular smart-health initiative works in one small area, what are the mechanisms for expanding to other areas so that others aren’t left behind? he asks.

It’s important, he says, that the focus is on creating and testing new technologies as tools for making populations healthier and not just on the technology as an end in itself.

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Sean Finnan: Sean Finnan is a freelance journalist. You can reach him at [email protected]

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