Tech is making life in Barcelona better, even if you don’t know it’s there

Your city is dumb. The potholed streets, coin-operated parking meters, and drafty brick buildings many of us interact with every day haven’t changed much in a century. But it’s finally happeningFrom Oslo to San Diego, cities across the globe are installing technology to gather data in the hopes of saving money, becoming cleaner, reducing traffic, and improving urban life. In Digital Trends’ Smart Cities series, we’ll examine how smart cities deal with everything from energy management, to disaster preparedness, to public safety, and what it all means for you.

Does a smart city require savvy citizens? The goal of many smart cities is to make residents’ lives easier, be it finding a parking space easier or paying for a ticket online instead of through the mail. But Barcelona doesn’t just want an easy-to-use app. The people using the solutions are providing data, and they should own it, Francesca Bria, Barcelona’s digital chief, told Alphr.

Barcelona is trying to get its citizens involved as it evolves into a smarter city, including through its waste management initiatives and Fab Labs, maker spaces focused on helping residents produce goods usually shipped in from the outside.

An Olympic legacy

In 1992, Barcelona hosted the Olympics. In preparation for the event, officials installed 310 miles of fiber-optic cable and worked to revitalize the run-down industrial neighborhood known as Poblenou . Thanks to their efforts, Poblenou is now the site of @22, a with green space, subsidized housing, and mixed-use buildings. is still underway, and is set to be the location of Cisco’s Innovation Center. The company has heavily invested in Barcelona, and the Center houses a lab for developing projects aimed at smarter parking and energy management, as well as a space to demonstrate how these solutions would look in the real world.

“Barcelona has probably come up there as one of the one or two smartest cities in the world.”

Barcelona just completed its first “superblock.” It’s a bit like having a block party, every day. Pedestrians are a priority, and while vehicles can use the streets, they’re restricted to 10 kilometers (about six miles per hour), according to The Guardian. Picnic tables, trees, benches, chairs, bike racks, a running track, and ping pong tables are all planned for one area, El Periódico reports. None of that sounds particularly tech-y, but it reflects Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau’s agenda and priorities. Colau has built upon the previous mayor’s interest and focus on technology but also made sure that citizens are involved in the process.

“What we’ve been seeing in the past year is really a renewed focus on including citizens, including the different neighborhoods of Barcelona in the definition of this smart city strategy and making sure this smart city strategy is designed by and for citizens,” Cyril Maury, manager at consulting firm Claro Partners, told Digital Trends.

Previous Mayor Xavier Trius and his smart city team had originally identified 12 areas for intervention and improvement, including transportation, energy, waste, and water. Today, the city’s roadmap to 2020 focuses on using open-source technology that is “more democratic and accessible” to find solutions for “long-term social and wage inequality, climate change, scarcity of natural resources, and employment.” According to the report, “The current government does not renounce the work done” thus far in making Barcelona a smart city but wants to go further in making it “open, equitable, circular, and democratic.”

Some of its goals include closing the “digital divide” that shuts out some residents, like elderly residents who don’t have internet access, from modern amenities. It will also implement more responsible water-use practices, and helping bring down rents by identifying vacant and illegally used buildings.

With plans to improve everything from transportation to waste management, it might be easy to forget how connected the city already is. “Barcelona, I would argue, over the past five years, has probably come up there as one of the one or two smartest cities in the world,” said Arvind Satyam, Cisco’s managing director of smart cities and digitization division. He said Trias was a driving force. “The thing that got Barcelona on the map was not the city, it was the leadership.”

During his administration, Barcelona became known as one of the smartest cities in the world.

barcelona smart city technology aerial view of eixample district  spain
Barcelona’s Eixample District is home to the cities’ first “superblock”. (Photo: Iakov Filimonov/123RF)

What waste?

Cisco has been involved since 2011 and has been operating its Smart+Connected Digital Platform in stealth-mode for three years, publicly launching it last November. “It connects and collects all the data from different sensors and devices — water sensors, parking sensors, street lights, waste bins, environmental sensors — and brings that data and provides an API to different existing applications in a city to improve productivity and efficiency,” said Munish Khetrapal, managing director of Cisco’s smarter cities and IoT department. “When you’re deploying a smart city, for us what is very important is you don’t have to replace your current waste management application and systems, but you improve and enhance their capability.”

“You don’t have to replace your current waste management application and systems, but you improve and enhance their capability.”

Barcelona has 19,500 smart energy meters, more than 1,100 LED streetlights (many of which can monitor noise, weather, and traffic), sensors embedded in the asphalt that relay parking information, sensors that detect rain for less wasteful irrigation systems, Wi-Fi on its buses, and one of the most innovative waste management systems around.

Barcelona was spending a fortune on waste and recycling – 1.5 billion euros over four years. In an effort to reduce cost, city officials approached Cisco for a solution. They wanted to know if it would make a difference if they only emptied trashcans more than 50 percent full.

“The answer is absolutely,” Satyam said.

Now, sensors detect how full the bins are, and trucks empty them accordingly. “Sustainability is probably the area where they are most advanced,” Maury said of Barcelona. It’s also an area that requires heavy citizen participation. Homes often have five different types of waste bins: one for glass, one for paper, one for plastic, and so on.

“This is a good example of a way to have people do the right thing, the sustainable thing, precisely because it is very convenient,” Maury said. “It doesn’t add any more complexity to their life.”

Smart Home

The Alea Air can keep your air clean and adjust the temperature in every room

Alea's Air, a smart vent system that uses sensor-filled vents and machine learning, will make sure that your air quality is superb and the temperature is always perfect in every room of your home.
Home Theater

In surprise announcement, OnePlus says it’s going to make a smart TV

Smartphone manufacturer OnePlus says it will release a smart TV. CEO Pete Lau will head up a new division of the company, and has hinted the TV will be simple to use, and will feature artificial intelligence.
Home Theater

Still wondering why you should buy a smart TV? Here's what you should consider

If you've been living under a rock, you might wonder: What is a smart TV, anyway? Lucky for you stone-dwellers, we've put together a quick-hit guide to teach you everything you need to know about televisions with big brains.
Smart Home

Hampton’s new smart lock is functional for both techies and traditional users

Hampton Products International is entering the smart home market in a big way by launching a new line of interoperable security products. Its flagship product is a new connected smart lock.
Smart Home

Amazon Go, the checkout-free convenience store, opens in Chicago

Amazon's checkout-less convenience store, Amazon Go, is now open in Chicago. It's the first of the high-tech stores that allow people to grab items and go not located in the company's home city of Seattle.
Smart Home

California passes bill that regulates security for Internet of Things devices

California recently became the first state in the country to pass a bill that regulates Internet of Things security. The bill requires manufacturers to include "reasonable security" measures on devices produced in the US.
Product Review

From Wi-Fi to door locks, Samsung makes one box to connect your whole home

A collaboration with Plume ensures that Samsung SmartThings Wifi is quicker than its predecessor, but a lack of wired connectivity and fragmented controls means it’s not for everyone.
Smart Home

Amazon reportedly will introduce an Alexa-enabled microwave, amp, and more

Amazon's Fall 2018 Alexa device rollout is about to begin, sources say. Look for an Alexa microwave, an amplifier, receiver, and subwoofer, and an Alexa voice-responsive device for your car. Amazon is maximizing its voice-command presence.
Smart Home

Armenian startup Bluenero is fishing for funds for a smart aquarium

A new startup operating out of the Republic of Armenia has launched a successful Indiegogo campaign to design and manufacture a smart aquarium that automatically feeds fish and monitors water quality.
Deals

Black Friday 2018: When it happens and where to find the best deals

Black Friday is the biggest shopping holiday of the year, and it will be here before you know it. If you can't wait until November 23 to start formulating a shopping plan, we've got you covered.
Smart Home

Amazon creates a bigger toy box with its new Alexa Gadgets Toolkit

Amazon is giving manufacturers of interactive devices and smart home enthusiasts a new toy with a new Alexa Gadgets Toolkit that enables the construction of accessories that pair to Echo devices.
Smart Home

Brew it fast, hot, and flavorful with our favorite coffee makers

Whether you're looking for a simple coffee maker to get you through the morning or a high-end brewer that will impress your taste buds and your friends, you'll find some of the best coffee makers around on this list.
Smart Home

Alexa can now tell you the odds of the next big football game

Alexa can now answer questions about your favorite NFL teams and players, such as what team is favored to win the upcoming game or what player has racked up the most distance over the course of their career.
Smart Home

Who needs Stitch Fix? Maison Me uses A.I. to custom design clothing just for you

With backing from Google, a new Silicon Valley-based startup called Maison Me is offering A.I.-assisted, designed-to-order clothing. It's like a personal styling service on steroids.