Smart urbanism

Connecting by Design – From Europe to Brazil

“Innovation in the IoT in Europe” presented by Donagh Horgan on a panel at 15th ANPEI conference 2015

About the author
Donagh Horgan is a design strategist, service innovator and architect working mainly in Europe and South America. His practice sits at the crossroads of design, technology and social change. He works on diverse projects for a whole host of clients, sectors and communities, while pursuing PhD in the area of resilient communities.

The Internet of Things can be an overwhelming concept to grasp. Essentially this sequel to the Industrial Revolution is about connecting ‘everything’ to ‘anything’ – allowing devices and applications to talk to each other, sharing data on performance with the potential to facilitate improvements and efficiency from supply chain logistics to user experience. In reality, it is not only a successor to the Industrial Revolution, one which may have the same irreversible impact on enduring socio-economic structures, but a successor to the Internet itself as we know it. As a friend at OrganiCity once told me, we wouldn’t call a forest a forest of trees, so why do we call the IoT the Internet of ‘things’.

The IoT is the Internet, only a hyped up super-mutant form, reaching tentacles of data collection right into our vacuum cleaners and fridges. It is the Internet moving into a post adolescent space in it’s development — past the glut of cat photos – with all the ambitions of adulthood. Developing systems and solutions to make our everyday lives better, removing the mundanity of chore at a domestic scale, and revolutionising the power for collaboration in industry. There is not a sphere of our world that the IoT will not touch and transform.

I was asked on behalf of the UK Trade & Investment to present on the opportunity of the IoT for Brazil, showcasing the prevailing innovation in Europe. The event came at an interesting time for Brazil: as the country begins a sharp descent into recession, it has never being clearer that siloed sectors and industrial bureaucracies need to collaborate to respond to the challenge.

My talk tackled the mammoth task of communicating the vast opportunities that arise from the IoT, to manage the supply chain, and engineer a new dialogue between manufacturers, producers and user. Industries as diverse as agriculture and healthcare are conducting research in the space and I wanted to show as complete a picture as possible of the opportunity for as wide a variety of industries as possible. In doing so, the commonalities and mutual benefits to society as a whole are clear – across sector, across silos and thematic areas. Therefore it is necessary at this point to develop a set of common objectives, facilitating technologies and operating systems that mean innovation in the IoT can be shared and scaled up across a set of multi-sector and multi-stakeholder contexts. A collaborative, iterative and design-led approach to developing IoT solutions is paramount to bringing benefit to end users, and I made a point to emphasise this in my presentation.

As a design strategist, I am committed to an open and participatory approach to developing new solutions and concepts. Like social innovation in public services and the built environment (my core areas of practice), technological innovation in the IoT needs to follow an iterative design process that works closely with a diverse set of stakeholders from project concept to delivery. Concepts and proposals must be tested in live scenarios with real communities before being refined and rolled out. Adequate evaluation at each stage must question the direction and development of project solutions at all stages from brief to buy out. Institutions and governments across Europe, notably the UK government and European Union are committed to projects that develop through open standards, open architecture, infrastructure and protocols, and tested with public and private organisations who can lead a way to scaling and adoption. In order to reinforce this way of working as an approach to innovation in the IoT I chose to speak about Organicity and the Open and Smart Cities Alliance as models and exemplar projects for Brazil.

Brazil has a strong university sector, with many cities holding world-class test facilities and programmes. The country has a vast array of industry and business communities from all shapes and sizes, yet collaboration is not used to the full potential. Most of all Brazil has a large and creaking public sector where innovations in both products and services can be shaped and scaled up in a transparent co-development process with engaged and adopting communities. The nature of Organicity – and Experimentation-as-a-Service – has the power to realise enormous potential in Brazil. By working across a number of cities and contexts, project communities can develop local responses or solutions that take into the nuances of the Brazil ecosystem, and service delivery into account. As an architect and urban planner I see the biggest opportunity – like Organicity – coming from projects set up in the context of the urban realm and the built environment.  

Porto Digital in Recife

Image by Américo Nunes – Flickr

By working in an open way – collaborating on open standards and policies, sharing learning between cities and communities – the risk of innovation can be minimised. Brazil has a long history of creative collaboration between sectors enabled by many programmes, funding sources and supported by local governments. With a bubbling community of early adopters and a host of programmes centred around participatory top up collaborations, the opportunity for Brazil is real and growing. The ANPEI (National association of research and development for innovative companies) event was an opportunity to share a European view of collaborative practice in designing the internet enabled social infrastructures, products and services of the future.

It was clear from the fantastic speakers that I shared the panel with that Brazil is already on this journey. Virginia University’s Don Brown presented alongside the amazing work of TOTVS, (Brasil’s leading enterprise software development company)but in particular, it was the work of local agencies Porto Digital and CESAR innovation and research in the IOT and AI from Recife that resonated most with my own practice. In particular Porto Digital is brokering the connections between traditionally siloed stakeholder groups in academic, public governance and design to create a network of projects and new enterprises to take advantage of opportunities in the IoT. There work centres on the development of a decentralised technology park across the urban fabric of the old port of Recife. Their work is of the kind that could benefit from and contribute to the development of OrganiCity as a platform and an approach to collaborative urban design.

Donagh Horgan speaking at ANPEI's panel

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