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How composite materials are driving the smart city movement

25th June 2020
Joe Bush

The island state city of Singapore is often hailed as the world’s premier smart city. With a 99% connectivity rate, robo-taxis and huge network of sensors providing a large pool of data for analysis, it is easy to see why the island is at the forefront of the smart city movement.

However, as urban areas across the globe get smarter, how will infrastructure support their progression? Here Robert Glass, Head of Marketing at global composite technology company Exel Composites, explains how composite materials are helping to drive the smart cities movement.

Just two percent of people lived in cities around the world in 1800. By 2050, the United Nations predicts that 68% of the world’s population will be urbanised. Escalating numbers of urban residents is already increasing the strain on public services, infrastructure and resources. Housing shortages, traffic congestion and overcrowded transport are all side-effects of having too many people in one place. To tackle rising urban populations and provide enhanced standards of living, countries across the world are turning to technology.

On the rise

A smart city uses a variety of Internet of Things (IoT) sensors to collect data and manage assets. This data is produced from our devices and infrastructure and is used to control assets such as traffic, transportation systems, water supply networks, waste management and community resources. As a ‘system of systems’, value is given to a smart city by what it chooses to do with the technology, not just how much data the city has.

If we think of our cities growing, they’re going to need to get taller. Rising buildings are going to require highly efficient elevators in order to transport people to their homes and offices, and will require more precise co-ordination. A network of data and analysis systems could enable this precision by estimating our arrival and approach towards the elevator, identify who we are and, using predictive analysis program the ideal and optimal elevator trips to respond to busy periods.

The public transport system is another key element of smart cities. To optimise commutes, smart cities call upon sensors to accumulate and monitor large amounts of data on traffic and can predict how busy underground trains are going to be to automatically adapt the number of vehicles in use at any given time. It’s clear that a responsive data infrastructure will be as important as the electrical and water utility infrastructures in place today. To support this infrastructure, composites will play a key role in providing uninterrupted data flows.

Calling on composites

Composites offer great possibilities to enclose and protect data infrastructure, such as transmitters that facilitate radio frequencies. Unlike metals that block these signals, composites such as fiberglass are radio transparent. With the implementation of 5G being another key driver in the smart city movement, the technology relies on an extensive network of small cells to transmit and receive signals. Composites can enable a fast roll out of 5G services with glass fibre profiles that are almost invisible to these frequency waves.

Fiberglass antennas can be hidden in plain sight on existing infrastructure such as light poles and traffic lights, allowing cities to easily integrate the technology. At Exel, we’ve been manufacturing radio transparent outdoor structures for many years, and expect to see the lightweight, corrosion-resistant and radio transparent qualities of composites helping to drive data around smart cities today and in the future.

To optimise public transport, composites can provide a lightweight solution that helps to reduce the overall vehicle weight of buses and trams. They are used throughout vehicles, from fiberglass exterior panels to carbon fibre stiffeners and battery boxes. This helps save fuel, reduce pollution and lower vehicle lifetime maintenance costs.

Smart cities are no longer a thing of the future. While Singapore is often considered as one of the first cities to benefit from increased data handling, the likes of Barcelona, Helsinki, Seattle and Milton Keynes are also positively altering the lives of millions of urban residents. While data remains in the driving seat of the smart city movement, this information cannot flow freely without effective infrastructure. Composite materials play an important and growing part in the success of a smart city, and their range of benefits creates durable solutions that help manage assets efficiently.

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