A guest post from Alicia Asín, CEO in Libelium, hardware manufacturer for wireless networks of sensors for the Smart Cities and Internet of Things.
With the amount of data we are creating on the Net, we are on the edge of the abyss because of the overcharge of information. What will happen when we have 50 billions of devices connected to Internet and creating trillions of data? Will we be able to extract the useful information? If the Big Data is the way to transform the business and society, the Open Data will play a fundamental role to ensure that the information is really accessible and open to everybody.
With the technological progress, our world is living another revolution and the citizens demand more transparency and equality. In this regard, data will only be open if somebody is able to use it freely, reuse it and redistribute it equally.
If we apply this concept to the management of smart cities, the use of existing data on the Net could promote the creation of new business models. In this way, Open Data must be considered as a potential gold mine for the management of the local economy.
In fact, some cities share the data they generate through their devices which are connected to Internet for the problem solving. New York city, with its project ‘NYC Big Apps’, organize an annual competition to develop apps which use the Open Data databases which are generated by the city council to resolve the problems of the city. The aim is improving the citizens’ life in the Big Apple, promoting the innovation and economical development. Other similar projects exist in the city of Zaragoza or Amsterdam, for instance. And the ‘European Open Cities App Challenge’ is a contest which rewards the individuals and companies that find new ways to solve the problems of the big cities.
It is curious the case of the police department of Columbia, in United States. When it was decided to publish the statistics of the local crimes in Open Data format, somebody decided to relocate them to a maps format to make the information more visual and another person developed an app called ‘Are you Safe?’, combining the geolocation with the positioning of those points for sending warnings to the citizen when he came in a neighbourhood qualified as dangerous according to the criminal rates.
But there are even more. The use of Open Data not only promote the economical development through business models which did not exist before, but it also stimulates the transparency of information for the citizens. If the billions of sensors that inhabit our cities produce Open Data, we should be able to make decisions based in the measurement that they register.
Let’s imagine that a government worried about the traffic congestion and the CO2 emissions from vehicles decides to active a toll and smart parking system in the city in order to reduce the jams and contamination. If the numbers of contamination and traffic volume were accessible for the community and we knew the cost of inversion in the toll and parking systems, the citizens would have useful information to value the political decisions and evaluate our leaders in a better way.
However, Open Data is nothing without a context. A friend of mine lives in one of the pioneering Open Data cities in Spain. He likes running and one day he had problems to breath, so he asked himself if the contamination would have increased. He checked the air quality parameters published by the local government, but he did not understand anything. Despite the fact that the data were available for the community, there was not a context to compare. So he spent three days reading an EU directive to finally understand that the majority of the parameters related to the pollution air levels in his city were beyond the recommended thresholds.
In conclusion, it is true that we have more access to the information than before. But it is very difficult to understand for people who are not expert. Is the over-information a new way to hide the information? I am afraid that this is a new phenomenon that is not derived from the Internet of the Things. I remember how the mechanical breakdowns of an european airline filled the news in Spain for a week some years ago. They offered data in absolute terms but nobody talked about the number of flights that the company was performing in comparison to others. It took me two weeks in realizing if that data was my real motive of concern until one journalist published a graphic with the percentages of breakdowns over the total number of another companies’ flights. And it resulted that the affected airline, was “simply” in the European average. The problem is that, if the citizens don’t exhibit a great critical sense and we demand contextualised information, we are totally at the mercy of the manipulation of data.
For this reason, the “journalist verification”, promoted by sites like Gapminder or Open Knowledge gains more importance than ever. Even the organization Visualizing.org struggles to give sense to this topic through data, supported by a combination of websites where other organizations can upload and share combinations of Open Data. If we demand the context and the facts instead of just numbers, the great legacy of the Internet of The Things will be a more transparent and democratic world. This way, we will prevent IoT from becoming the “bad bank” of Big & Open Data.