Skip Navigation
BlackBerry Blog

The Future of Digital Experiences in the Smart City

An expert panel at BlackBerry Summit 2023 discusses the potential of the smart city – and the importance of ensuring its technology has clear human benefit. Watch it on demand.

The idea of a “smart city” might still feel like science fiction, but the potential is huge for transforming urban lifestyles. At BlackBerry Summit 2023, a panel of leading experts, moderated by MotorTrend Senior Features Editor Kristen Lee, suggested how the smart city is delivering benefits already, and addressed the challenges to overcome for us to reach our best future.

“Human-centered design is a big part of the smart city,” says Spotify Head of Innovation Máuhan Zonoozy. This type of design must take everyone and everything in the urban environment into consideration.

The Role of Cars and Data in the Smart City

For example, cars will have a key role to play as sources of information, so they will need to be more seamlessly integrated within their environment. President & CEO of Mercedes-Benz Research & Development North America, Philipp Skogstad, gives an example of the potential benefits of this approach. “Each of our cars takes sensor data from the dampers on the suspension system. They can then recognize potholes or speed bumps. We can transmit that to warn you whether such a thing is coming up,” Skogstad told the audience of BlackBerry customers and executives. “We already have a partnership with the city of Boston where we provide access to that data.” This can enable the city to respond by fixing the road to create a safer environment for all residents.

Key to enabling this is standardization of data formats and access interfaces. “The car is going to become the most complex IoT endpoint, generating the most amount of data with the greatest number of sensors,” says BlackBerry Senior Vice-President and Head of BlackBerry QNX John Wall. “We need a layer within vehicles where you have a normalization of data.

“You must also have use-case data, so you're not sending terabytes of information to the city. Instead, you're sending very specific insights from the vehicle,” says Wall. With BlackBerry® software used in more than 235 million vehicles on the road today, the company is in a strong position to drive this data standardization within the automotive industry.

Keeping It Real in the Smart City

Change on the scale required to realize the potential of smart cities takes time, and often lags behind the hype such ideas can generate. Such a situation has already occurred to some extent with self-driving cars, which have failed to arrive as quickly as many expected. “It's going to be a very gradual implementation,” says Wall. It’s important to proceed with caution, so safety and privacy are never jeopardized, Wall explains. This is the only way to foster and preserve trust, which is essential to successful adoption of smart city services and capabilities by the public, according to the panelists.

“The way to ensure that you've got public trust is by involving regulators,” former President & CEO of Invest Ottawa Michael Tremblay explains during the panel discussion. “You also want to include applied research from academia, and to test the project in a safe area.” To accomplish this, Invest Ottawa helped establish Area X.O, a private testing ground on 1800 acres of federal land located close to the Canadian capital city’s downtown. Technologies such as smart road intersections can be tested for success in this controlled environment before being rolled out in public.

The development process must also involve governments, which are notoriously slow-moving and tightly funded. “Cities need social and political return on investment,” says Tremblay. Often, “The technology is moving faster than people in government can catch up,” adds Wall. 

For example, Level 3 autonomous driving systems, where drivers can take their hands off the wheel and eyes off the road, are geofenced to be usable only within areas where they have been certified safe by regulators. It’s hard for governments to have the necessary expertise to certify complex technology like this with confidence. “Mercedes Benz is the only OEM (original equipment manufacturer) in the world that has achieved that level of certification — currently in Germany, Nevada, and California,” says Skogstad.

“Putting a spotlight on having the citizenry understand what is possible is an extremely important part of figuring out how to do this,” says Tremblay. Fostering positive public sentiment is also key to enlisting government support, which can be an accelerant to innovation, or it can slow things down. “Having the regulators with you can really help to open those markets. Without them, the doors are shut.”

Opening Doors — and Minds — to Digital Adoption

Managing the public’s perception of new tech and capabilities isn’t always easy, or straightforward. Spotify hit headwinds when it tried to add more relevant content recommendations based on a user’s whereabouts. “We have insane rebellion when we ask for location permissions,” says Zonoozy.

Trust is always tenuous when it comes to sharing information that people deem private and personal. However, notes Wall, “If you provide real value, people will open up their data.” To justify and maintain their trust, there must be “a gradual introduction of new technologies that protect data with the highest levels of cybersecurity,” he adds.

Enter the SDV

A driving force behind delivering this kind of value and security in automotive applications is the software-defined vehicle (SDV), a design concept that BlackBerry supports with its foundational edge-computing platform, and now celebrates with its annual Software-Defined Vehicle Innovator Awards, presented in partnership with MotorTrend.

The SDV design approach allows OEMs to create a more personalized experience for each consumer, which delivers value through increased safety and convenience. These personalized, optimized digital experiences are at the heart of the smart city’s central premise: making urban living more seamless.

“We all want to be experiencing a ‘Jetsons’ kind of lifestyle, so we have to try things,” concludes Tremblay. “But we also have to make sure that we don't have a big setback because we went too fast and didn't plan it out properly.”

Watch The Future of Digital Experiences in the Smart City from BlackBerry Summit 2023.
For similar articles and news delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe to the BlackBerry Blog.
Bruce Sussman

About Bruce Sussman

Bruce Sussman is Senior Managing Editor at BlackBerry.